Friday, February 21, 2014

A Call To Arms Against Holes

There are some huge potholes out there.

Duh, this is Chicago at the end of winter, and particularly brutal winter at that.  Still, I don't remember seeing so many large craters distributed throughout the city such as there are right now.  Many of these pose a serious threat to bicyclists.  Many occupy bike lanes and areas designated for bike travel.  North Clark Street in Lakeview comes to mind, as does North California Avenue in Humboldt Park.  Hit one of these craters with your front wheel and you may end up picking your teeth up off the ground, or worse.  This is no joke.

The city has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition for permitted and intended users of its property.  Under Illinois law a bicyclist is generally considered both a permitted and intended user of an area explicitly marked for bike traffic.  To be held liable for a dangerous condition in a bicycle lane that causes an injury, a municipality must have notice that the condition existed.  The City of Chicago does not owe a duty to its citizens to constantly inspect its roads, streets and alleys for danger.  Our transportation infrastructure is just too enormous to allow such an inspection system.  However, once the City is aware of a dangerous condition on its property, i.e., in one of its bike lanes, then the City must take reasonable steps to fix it.  What that may mean exactly will depend on the specific circumstances.  Our law firm is presently suing the City of Chicago on behalf of a bicyclist who was seriously injured when the front wheel of his bicycle struck a large hole in a bike lane on S. South Shore Drive on the City's South Side.  We have alleged that the City was made aware of the hole's existence, and of its propensity to become hidden by standing water, many months before the crash thanks to a call made by a concerned resident who lived nearby.  

Putting the City on notice of a dangerous roadway condition is important.  Ideally, the City will respond and fix the problem before someone gets hurt.  If it fails to do so,  proof that the City was notified yet failed to act in a timely manner can be used to preserve the injured cyclist's right to compensation for his/her harms and losses.  So, how can the average cyclist help out?  To borrow a ubiquitous slogan: If you see something, say something.  There are a few ways in which that can be done.  Calling 311 is an option.  Perhaps a better one, is to go to the City's "Pothole in Street" website.  Though the site needs a catchier name, it allows for quick and easy reporting of dangerous potholes.  Perhaps a better way still is to whip out your trusty smart phone, snap a photo and report it immediately using the Chicago Works Mobile 311 app.  Available for iPhone and Android users, the app has been around since 2012 and is quite easy to use.  It even tracks the progress of the requested service.  

If the worst happens, and a cyclist is injured due to a dangerous pothole, an attorney's office can send a Freedom of Information Act request to the City of Chicago requesting any complaints that may have been made about the particular hole.  If it turns out that one or more service requests were made then the attorney may take the appropriate action to get the injured bicyclist compensation.

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