Bicycle Tour Rider’s Wrongful Death Negligence Trial Results in Quick Verdict

Where a recreational tour participant is injured or killed during a charity bicycle ride, the surviving spouse or family members can bring what is called a “wrongful death case.”

In a trial report sent to attorney Doug Landau of the Herndon injury law firm Abrams Landau, Ltd., by one of his Georgia Bar Association friends, a recent bicycling fatality case was dissected by the Daily Report. The cyclist was nearing the end of the week-long Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) event in Savannah when she fell. Her helmet flew off and her head hit the pavement. She sustained a catastrophic brain injury, and died later that day in a local hospital.

The Waivers you sign to go on a charity bike tour or compete in a race may prevent you from suing the ride or race directors. However, if you are struck by an unsafe motorist or unrestrained dog while participating, you may still have a case for reimbursement for your injuries and losses.

Her husband sued the non-profit organization that put on the event, alleging negligence in planning the trip. The plaintiff’s theory of the case was that the rider’s bike tire, about an inch wide, became stuck in an expansion joint that ran parallel to her route on the street, causing a sudden stop that threw her off the bike. The widower further accused the event of “gross negligence,” and “intentional misconduct” for ignoring city warnings; not adequately warning the cyclists of the unusual hazard of a parallel expansion joint; and, for not choosing a more rider-friendly route.

The trial judge granted “Summary Judgement,” or a partial dismissal, to the defense on the husband’s claim of simple negligence since the 800+ BRAG participants all signed a detailed two page waiver assuming the risk of injury or death from the ride. There is a long history of caselaw in Georgia concerning the signing of waivers for sporting events, dating back to a case involving a law student who sustained heat stroke during the world famous Peachtree Road Race, the largest road running 10K in the United States. In that case, the plaintiff lost due to the signing of the waiver in which he is voluntarily assumed the known risk of harm from the heat, the distance, and difficulty of an endurance event. It is a case attorney Landau had written about over 30 years ago in the Virginia State Bar Journal in an article titled, “A Virginia Runner’s Rights and Remedies.”

As for the claim of “gross negligence” under Georgia law, the trial court requires the husband’s lawyers t prove a lack of “even slight diligence.” This was a huge hurdle to overcome for plaintiff’s counsel. The lawyers for the 61-year-old bike rider had asked the jury to return with a verdict of $20 million, representing $1 million a year for each of the remaining 20 years of her life expectancy.

Defense counsel had a three-part argument:

1) They told the jury that the bicyclist assumed the risks

2) They told the jury that BRAG was meticulously planned

3) They demonstrated to the jury that the city of Savannah, where the fatal accident occurred, had approved the bike riders’ route

Furthermore, defense had a crucially important expert witness. This witness testified that the bicycle helmet would not have come off if it had been properly fastened. According to Defense counsel, the big moment in the trial was when the jury saw the waiver that the bike rider had knowingly and voluntarily signed.

After a four-day jury trial, the jury came back in just 27 minutes, which is extraordinarily quick because it included the time to elect a foreperson. The verdict was for the defense, and it is now up to the plaintiff’s counsel as to whether or not to appeal. The case is Byrne vs. Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (2019).

In Virginia, it is unlikely that this case would’ve even made it to trial. Under Virginia law, unlike Georgia, which as “comparative fault” and other more modern laws, the Commonwealth of Virginia has “contributory negligence” and “assumption of the risk” as complete and total bars to any recovery by an injured plaintiff. Read more about contributory negligence here.

Having represented injured victims in both Virginia and Georgia, the Abrams Landau legal team has seen how important the difference in state laws can be. However, in this case, the end result would have been the same in Virginia. If you were injured due to an external factor, such as an unsafe driver or unrestrained dog, you may still have a case for reimbursement for your injuries and losses.

If you or someone you know has been injured while riding a bike due to no fault of your own, please give us a call (703-796-9555) or email us at Abrams Landau, Ltd. and we will do our best to help you receive the guidance and compensation you deserve.