City Not Liable for Motocross Bicycle Injury

Is a property owner liable for injuries caused to someone riding a bicycle on said property? The Appellate Division, Second Department, recently addressed such a case. The property owner—in this case the City of New York—was held not responsible for an injured bicycle driver because, as the court explained, he voluntarily assumed the risk, thereby absolving the city.

Mamati v. City of New York Parks & Recreation

Of course, this was not simply a case of someone riding a bicycle through the park and tripping on a crack in the pavement. The plaintiff in this case was riding a motocross (or BMX) bike through a designated dirt bike trail in a city-owned park in Queens. The driver made three jumps with his bike off a dirt mound on the trail. The first two jumps were successful; the third was not. The plaintiff then sued the City, alleging he suffered serious injuries on the unsuccessful attempt as a result of the city's negligent maintenance.

Queens Supreme Court granted summary judgment to the city. In an opinion issued on December 3rd of this year, theSecond Department affirmed. The appeals panel agreed with the Supreme Court the city was entitled to summary judgment under what is known as the “primary assumption of risk doctrine.” This is a common-law rule that holds “a person who voluntarily participates in a sporting or recreational activity generally consents, by his or her participation, to those injury-causing events, conditions, and risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the activity.” Put simply, the plaintiff chose to assume the risk of jumping his bicycle off the dirt mound; he therefore cannot hold the city liable for his subsequent injuries.

New York courts have recognized the assumption of risk doctrine with respect to sporting facilities since at least the 1920s. In 1997, theNew York Court of Appeals jointly ruled on four separate personal injury cases involving sporting activities. In one case, for instance, a bobsledder sued for injuries sustained during a championship race held at Lake Placid. He argued there was negligence in the design of the course, which caused his injuries when his bobsled crashed into a wall. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The bobsledder was an experienced athlete who fully understood the inherent risks of racing on the course. The court said his injuries were the result of his own miscalculations, not the course owner's negligence.

But in another of the four cases, the Court of Appeals said the plaintiff could pursue a personal injury claim. The plaintiff there was playing tennis at his club when he tripped on a torn net. The Court of Appeals said the torn net was not an “inherent” part of the game of tennis, and the club owner could be sued if there was “ordinary” negligence in its failure to maintain the court in its normal condition.

The assumption of risk doctrine is therefore not necessarily a complete bar to personal injury lawsuits. But if you have been injured as the result of a bicycle or sporting-related accident, it is important you speak right away with an experienced New York personal injury attorney who can assess the strength of your potential case against a property owner or operator.Contact our office today if you have any questions.