Plan Would Protect Iowa Counties from Bicyclist Lawsuits

February 14, 2008

Bicyclists would have a hard time collecting damages from counties or cities in Iowa under a plan up for consideration by state legislators.

The proposal by the Iowa State Association of Counties would protect cities and counties from liability for injuries and damages caused by bike accidents unless public employees were notified of a road problem before an accident and failed to take action.

The issue came up after Crawford County paid $350,000 to settle a lawsuit from a woman whose husband died in 2004 when he hit a crack in a road while participating in RAGBRAI — the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Crawford County later banned RAGBRAI and other counties asked legislators to exempt counties from liability in bike accidents.

The counties association plans to ask members of the House Local Government Committee to introduce the bill within weeks.

“Our goal is to try to come up with something that doesn’t inhibit bicyclists’ rights but also clarifies the responsibilities of counties,” Bill Peterson, executive director of the counties group said Monday.

The committee’s vice chairman, Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, said the proposal was more likely to be approved than an earlier plan that would have completely exempted counties from liability in bike lawsuits.

“I want to look at it,” said Kressig an 18-time RAGBRAI rider.

Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, said his group opposed the proposal because such lawsuits are rare.

RAGBRAI is sponsored by The Des Moines Register, which hasn’t taken a position on the proposal, said Susan Patterson Plank, the newspaper’s vice president of marketing.

Information from: The Des Moines Register,

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