[Bike lanes, like sidewalks, are part of a city’s infrastructure. AP Photo/Steven Senne]
A bizarre case involving a driver who is suing the city of Charlottetown, P.E.I. after he stuck and paralyzed a cyclist, has merit, according to one municipal lawyer.
Last summer, as driver Jordan Arsenault-Loeman was turning left, he collided with cyclist Alan Stanley. The crash left Stanley paralyzed from the neck down.
In a lawsuit filed with P.E.I. Supreme Court, the driver claims the city is at fault due to unsafe bike lanes that are in disrepair, the CBC reported.
Stanley, who now uses a wheelchair, sued Arsenault-Loeman earlier this year and in September, a provincial court judge found Arsenault-Loeman guilty for making an unsafe turn.
John Mascarin, a partner at Toronto’s Aird & Berlis LLP and professor of municipal and planning law, said while it’s a bizarre case, the driver may have good reason to take the city to court.
“He’s arguing that the bike lanes as installed by the municipality aren’t safe,” he told Yahoo Canada News. “That could create liability on the part of the municipality.”
When building roads, cities must make sure the infrastructure is safe for all users as it was designed and constructed. This takes into account things like proper guardrails for bike lanes, for example.
“It would be a possible liability for the municipality if it’s designed a roadway that has a bike lane that somehow isn’t sufficient to carry out that very purpose,” Mascarin said.
If a bike lane is too narrow, for example, and forces cyclists to veer out into an area not designated to the bike lane, it could create an inherent danger to both drivers and cyclists.
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Legal cases against municipalities dealing with pedestrian walkways, crosswalks and lanes are fairly common, so Mascarin said he isn’t surprised to see one involving a bike lane.
“Municipalities are often seen as being a defendant with deep pockets,” he said, adding they generally carry insurance and can cover “astronomical” payouts if they must.
“Municipalities are often added as a party to a matter just to see if there’s a possibility of any big pay out at the end of the day.”
Mascarin, who stressed he’s not an expert in P.E.I. municipal law, said theoretically if the case goes to trial, the City of Charlottetown would need to prove that the bike lane is reasonably safe for all users of the road, which means pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.
Next, it has to prove that the roadway in question was functioning on the day in question and was properly maintained. If that could be proven, the onus would then shift to the driver or the bicyclist to determine whether they were using the roadway properly.
“Then it just becomes a question of, did it operate in this matter? Did the municipality properly repair, maintain and design the road way,” he said. “If it did, was the driver driving excessively fast? Was the driver under the influence? Was the bicyclist using the road way properly? All that comes to a head if nothing seems to give as to who may be liable, or if no one is liable.”