Bicycle collisions can result in serious injuries or even death. In a March 28, 2018 case arising out of a fatal cycling accident, the surviving spouse filed a Tennessee wrongful death lawsuit against two individuals who were cycling with her husband. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, holding that, among other things, the decedent was at least 50% at fault for the accident and that the activities in which they were engaged were inherently dangerous. The plaintiff appealed the decision.
In the case, the husband, the defendants, and two others were on a cycling expedition on the shoulder of a highway in Tennessee. The group was riding in a paceline, which requires the cyclists to ride in a line extremely close to each other in order to counteract wind resistance and increase the efficiency of the ride. All of the individuals in the group, including the decedent, were seasoned cyclists. At some point during the ride, one of the defendant’s front tire struck the other defendant’s back tire, causing the former to crash and fall to the pavement. As the decedent attempted to avoid him, he somehow flew off his bicycle and landed on his head. The decedent was rendered quadriplegic by the wreck and months later passed away.
On appeal, the defendants argued that paceline riding is an inherently risky activity, especially for an older cyclist such as the decedent, and pointed to the testimony of the experts and participants. The appeals court disagreed with the position that, by participating in paceline riding, the decedent assumed the risk of any unreasonably dangerous conduct on the part of the other participants. The court also noted that the Tennessee Supreme Court had abolished implied assumption of the risk as a complete bar to recovery.
The appeals court then addressed the issue of whether a duty of care exists in paceline riding and, if so, what the nature of that duty is. Holding that, inherently risky or not, a paceline rider still has a duty of care to his fellow riders, the court concluded that all of the cyclists in the case had a duty to act reasonably under the circumstances. The court found that, due to the conflicting accounts as to what happened, including what actually caused the decedent’s fall, important disputes remained at issue. In a negligence case, matters of whether a breach of duty occurred, and by whom, are generally decided by the jury. The court ruled that questions related to the accident, including whether the decedent’s fall was caused by his braking too quickly or whether it was caused by the defendant’s sudden slowing, are questions for the plaintiff to address at trial. Reversing the trial court order, the case was remanded for the plaintiff to proceed with her lawsuit against the defendants.
The Nashville accident attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard have represented many family members in civil lawsuits after the death of a loved one. We can provide compassionate legal advice in personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as family law and estate planning matters. For personalized information regarding your situation, schedule an appointment by calling Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard at (615) 800-7096 or submitting our website form.