Juror Bias Against Bicyclists
A recent U.S. District Court case in Massachusetts revealed a potential juror bias regarding bicyclists who are injured on the road. In that case, a bicyclist was riding the wrong way down Commercial Street, a one-way street in Provincetown, when she was struck in the leg by a truck, fell from her bike and sustained injuries. She filed a claim against the truck operator alleging negligence in failing to keep a proper lookout and for traveling too fast. The truck driver argued that the bicyclist was comparatively negligent and should not recover any damages. During jury selection, the trial court judge allowed a question about whether a prospective juror was an avid cyclist, and excused for cause those who indicated that they couldn’t be impartial. The question also suggested that some potential jurors might hold prejudices against bicyclists.
Bicyclists Must Follow Traffic Laws
On the one hand, jurors may sometimes view an injured bicyclist as akin to a pedestrian and thus worthy of more sympathy than someone injured in an accident between two motor vehicles. A cyclist may be seen as being exposed and often traveling slower and less able to avoid a collision with a fast-moving vehicle. On the other hand, motorists may be frustrated by traffic that has become more difficult with fewer lanes for travel and more accommodations for bicycles. Although every person riding a bicycle in Massachusetts has a right to use all public ways except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibit bicycles (G.L.c. 85, s. 11B), bicyclists must also observe the same basic traffic laws and regulations that apply to motor vehicle operators, such as riding in the same direction as vehicles and obeying traffic lights and right-of-way laws. The case revealed there may exist a general lack of patience with bicyclists sharing the road with motor vehicles, and a general sense that bicyclists seek the protections of the law when it’s convenient and ignore it when it’s inconvenient, suggesting a bias against bicyclists. However, bicyclists themselves can make good jurors where they follow the rules and believe that those who don’t give all cyclists a bad reputation.
Bike Riders Must Be Reasonable and Safe
In the Massachusetts case, the plaintiff relied on a local Provincetown ordinance that permits bicycles to travel in either direction on Commercial Street, a main road through the town. As such, the plaintiff’s attorney could impress on the jury that the plaintiff was not a bad stereotype of a bicyclist, but rather was following the rules and doing everything in her power to be reasonable and safe in the circumstances. Therefore, despite the removal of avid bicyclists from the jury, following a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the bicyclist, finding that the truck driver was negligent and that the negligence was the proximate cause of the bicyclist’s injuries.
Some Safety Facts About Bikes
It is helpful to know some basic safety facts to help bicyclists to be reasonable and safe in the circumstances including:
- Bicyclists deaths occur most often between 6:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M.
- Bicyclist deaths occur most often in urban areas (75%) compared to rural areas (25%) in 2017.
- Alcohol was involved in 37% of all fatal bicyclist crashes in 2017 (NHTSA).
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