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City vs. Cyclists: Chicago Not Liable for Bicycle Accidents Caused by Potholes

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Bicycle accident with helmet and bag on the ground with leaves and stones.

In a December 2023 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the city of Chicago cannot be held responsible for bicycle accidents caused by potholes if there are no bike lanes or signage indicating that the street was intended for bicycle use. This decision has a significant impact on bicyclist safety in the state, and it’s important to know its ramifications.

Bicycle accident with helmet and bag on the ground with leaves and stones.

What Was the Alave v. City of Chicago Decision?

Clark Alave was a bicyclist who suffered injuries after hitting a pothole in a Chicago crosswalk. Alave suffered broken teeth and other bodily injuries in the accident. He sued the city of Chicago, claiming that it failed to properly maintain the street and was thus liable for his injuries.

In an earlier decision, an appellate court supported Alave, ruling that the city was responsible for several reasons.

Among those reasons was that the city was apparently intending the area for bicycle use, as indicated by the presence of a Divvy bike sharing station around 100 feet away from the accident. Divvy is a bike sharing program owned by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Another reason cited was that the city prohibits bicyclists from riding on sidewalks, thus indicating its intention for bicyclists to ride on the street.

However, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected that decision and ruled that the city is not responsible for the accident. According to the Supreme Court, while the city permitted bicyclists to use that road, bicyclists were not the intended users of the roadway.

According to the Supreme Court, bicyclists are only intended users of roadways if there is a bicycle lane or other signage indicating that the roadway is for bicyclists. Otherwise, the roadway is not considered to be intended for bicyclists (they are only considered permitted users), and thus, the city can not be held responsible.

The Supreme Court cited an earlier court case to support its decision. The decision in that case stated that unless there are markings, signage, or some other indication that a roadway is intended for bicyclists, bicyclists are merely “permitted, but not intended, users of the roads.”

What Are the Implications of This Decision?

The implications of this decision are quite far-reaching. It means that if you are riding a bike on a roadway that does not have bicycle lanes or other markings or signage explicitly indicating it’s for bicyclists, and you get into an accident due to poor road conditions, you cannot hold the municipality responsible, whether it’s in Chicago or elsewhere in Illinois.

A potential consequence of this decision is that municipalities may refrain from adding bicycle lanes to roadways. After all, if they don’t add any bicycle lanes, cyclists will be unable to sue them if they get into accidents due to poor road conditions. It’s an easy way to escape liability.

What Does This Mean for Cyclists?

If you are a cyclist, you should ideally cycle on roadways that have bike lanes. However, this is not always a possibility. Many roadways don’t have bike lanes, and your bicycle route may require you to take those roads.

Regardless of where you ride, though, you should pay extra attention to bicycle safety. There are some great new gadgets to avoid bicycle accidents you might want to consider.

If you are riding at night, make sure to have a headlight and a backlight. All bike lights help prevent accidents, but the See.Sense lights give you even more visibility by reacting to your movement and flashing in a sequence similar to those used by ambulance lights. Also, wear reflective clothing, such as a reflective vest, to help motorists see you. In the daytime, wear bright clothing, such as green or yellow vest, to increase visibility.

A bike horn can also help motorists be informed of your presence. A good helmet is essential, but you might also want to invest in elbow and knee pads to protect your elbows and knees in case you fall.

You should also improve your riding habits. Be aware of traffic and don’t swerve suddenly or make other sudden moves. Signal before you turn and obey street signs and other rules of the road.

Finally, make sure your bike is in good condition. A poorly maintained bike could lead to all sorts of accidents. Your tires should be inflated properly and your chain oiled. Your bike should have rearview mirrors (and you should use them). You should also feel comfortable on your bike; adjust your seat if you don’t.

Who Can Be Held Liable for an Accident Caused by Poor Road Conditions?

The above-mentioned decision may prove to be one of the biggest challenges in representing bicycle accidents. Poor road conditions also include potholes and debris that was not cleared, improper trenches, and other road issues that require maintenance.

Typically, in the case of a car accident in Illinois, a claim can be filed against the Illinois Department of Transportation if the accident was caused by poor road conditions or debris. That excludes debris or road conditions that were not yet reported to the Department of Transportation.

Also, it excludes highways and streets not under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Transportation. In such cases, claims must be filed against the government agencies responsible for those roadways. For example, if the accident occurred in Chicago, you would typically file a claim against the City of Chicago.

When Can You Sue the City of Chicago for Bicycle Accidents?

As an injured bicyclist, you can file a claim with the City of Chicago (or the governmental agency responsible for the maintenance of the roadway) if the following conditions are met:

  • There was signage or markings (such as a dedicated bicycle lane) indicating the roadway was intended for cyclists.
  • The accident occurred due to poor road conditions, such as potholes the city failed to fill.
  • The accident occurred on public property.

Can You Sue Other Motorists?

Whether you can sue other motorists for bicycle accidents depends on whether another motorist caused your injuries.

If the sole reason for the accident that caused your injuries was the poor condition of the road, you can sue the city if the above-mentioned criteria are met.

However, if the accident was caused by another motorist, even in part, you may be able to sue him or her. For example, let’s say a car driver was driving recklessly, forcing you to swerve to avoid an accident. While you swerved, you hit a pothole and fell. If not for the other driver, you would not have to swerve.

In such a case, bicycle accident attorneys can determine whether you can sue the other motorist or file a claim with his or her insurance company.

If you got into an accident caused by another motorist (for example, if a car driver hit you from behind), you can usually file a claim with his or her insurance company. That’s because Illinois is an at-fault state. However, since Illinois is also a modified comparative fault state, you cannot recover compensation if you are more than 50% at fault for the accident. In addition, the amount of your compensation will likely depend on how much fault you contributed to the accident.

In Illinois, motorists are required to have minimum liability insurance coverage of at least $25,000 per person for bodily injuries in motor accidents. If the other motorist has the required minimum liability insurance, you will be covered for up to $25,000 for bodily injuries.

However, what happens if the other motorist was uninsured or did not have sufficient coverage?

According to Illinois law, your own insurance coverage can kick in, if you have uninsured motorist coverage. Auto insurance companies cannot require you to be inside a vehicle to qualify for uninsured motorist coverage.

Even if you were riding a bicycle (or walking) at the time of the accident, you can file a claim with your own auto insurance company if the other party was uninsured. Doing so can help pay for your medical bills and other losses resulting from the accident.

If your auto insurance policy extends to your family members, such as your children, they would be included in the uninsured motorist coverage as well, even as cyclists or pedestrians.

Getting into a bicycle accident can be a traumatizing experience. You need time to heal and recover, and fighting insurance companies or filing claims with the city can be a big source of frustration and stress. When you have bicycle accident attorneys on your side to handle the claims process, it can ease that stress and take a heavy burden off your back.

If you suffered a bike accident that was caused by poor road conditions in Illinois, contact us online, or call Lloyd Miller Law at (773) 838-8100 for a free consultation.

About the Author

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Over 35 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Over 35 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Years of Experience: Over 35 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar Admissions: Illinois State Bar