Posts Tagged ‘liability’

Courts reduce road agency liability

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

It’s already difficult to sue road agencies under state law for the quality of the road beneath your tires.


Each governmental agency having jurisdiction over a highway shall maintain the highway in reasonable repair so that it is reasonably safe and convenient for public travel. A person who sustains bodily injury or damage to his or her property by reason of failure of a governmental agency to keep a highway under its jurisdiction in reasonable repair and in a condition reasonably safe and fit for travel may recover the damages suffered by him or her from the governmental agency. The liability, procedure, and remedy as to county roads under the jurisdiction of a county road commission shall be as provided in section 21 of chapter IV of 1909 PA 283, MCL 224.21. Except as provided in section 2a, the duty of a governmental agency to repair and maintain highways, and the liability for that duty, extends only to the improved portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel and does not include sidewalks, trailways, crosswalks, or any other installation outside of the improved portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel. A judgment against the state based on a claim arising under this section from acts or omissions of the state transportation department is payable only from restricted funds appropriated to the state transportation department or funds provided by its insurer.

Remember that in Michigan bicycles are not vehicles, therefore road agencies can’t be sued for defects in bike lanes or on paved shoulders.

That’s both good and bad. It’s good for countering road agencies arguments that bike lanes raise their liability. They don’t. In fact, they can reduce it. That’s not our opinion. That’s the opinion of the Michigan State Attorney General’s office.

The bad part is this lack of liability removes a motivating factor for keeping them well maintained. Then again, the roads aren’t in all that great a shape either.

Gravel doesn’t count

Last week the Michigan Supreme Court clarified the road liability a little more. They said the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) could not be sued for gravel that accumulated on a road. That gravel allegedly caused a motorcycle crash.

From the Spinal Column:

“Basically the law states that a defect must be in the traveled portion of the road and the higher courts interpretation is that it must be in the road bed itself and the gravel was simply a dusting on the surface of the road that you would see anywhere on a daily basis,” [RCOC attorney Paula] Reeves explained.

Michigan law established that if snow and ice are on a roadway, the RCOC is not liable for any damages. Subsequently the Supreme Court last week issued an opinion stating under Michigan Law the agency is not culpable in this incident since RCOC is responsible for keeping the roadway in “reasonable repair,” and loose gravel on a roadway does not fall under this definition.

“The courts took this logic and extended the law to apply to gravel,” Reeves noted.

This ruling could likely be applied to a bicyclist crashing on gravel in a vehicle travel lane.

Again, this is good and bad for the same reasons mentioned earlier.

However, if reducing the liability means more bike lanes, we’ll take it.

We’ll deal with the occasional gravel.


Bicyclists and pot holes

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

MDOT recently issued this press release:

MDOT offers toll-free pothole hotline to Michigan motorists

March 31, 2010Freezing and thawing cycles lead to potholes in the spring. In addition to a toll-free pothole line, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has posted a form on the MDOT Web site to encourage motorists to report potholes on state roads. Reports of potholes on state roads (M, I and U.S. roads only) will be routed to the nearest MDOT Transportation Service Center (TSC).

“The pothole hotline is an easy and efficient way for residents to help us identify potholes on state roads that need to be repaired,” said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. “We hope that residents will call the hotline or use the link on the MDOT Web site to report potholes that need attention.”

To report a pothole, call 888-296-4546, around-the-clock, seven days a week, or use the “Report Potholes” link on the MDOT Web site at? Those reporting pothole locations are asked to provide the route name (M, U.S. or I designation), the county, the nearest community, and the closest cross street or interchange. Potholes on non-state roads should be reported to local road commissions since MDOT does not have jurisdiction over roads that are not part of the state system.

Information about how potholes are formed is available on the MDOT Web site at,1607,7-151-9615_30883—,00.html.

The title is misleading. Other road users, including cyclists can report potholes — not just motorists.

As you may know, MDOT has a reimbursement program if one of these potholes damages your vehicle. According to a 2004 VeloNews article, Michigan bicyclists should be able to make claims as well. The MDOT claim forms are not specific to motorists.

Still, getting reimbursed is not easy according to MDOT.

The state will consider an award only for the damages beyond what has been paid by your insurance company, and the state must have been aware of the pothole for 30 days without repairing it in order for a claim to be eligible for reimbursement.

Also note that parts of that VeloNews article are outdated due to more recent court decisions.

A 2006 court case determined that by law, counties and MDOT are only liable for vehicular travel lanes.

“The duty extends only to the improved portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel and does not include sidewalks, trail ways, crosswalks, or any other installation outside of the improved portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel…”
Grimes v MDOT (2006)

It also doesn’t include paved shoulders or bike lanes — bikes are not vehicles under Michigan law. On one hand, that’s good for convincing road agencies to build bike facilities (no added liability.) However, that also means cyclists are not afforded the same protections as motorists.

According to the state attorney general’s office, the liability extends beyond potholes to include:

  • Rutting
  • Manhole covers
  • Dilapidated road surface
  • Traveled (vehicle) lane edge drops
  • Missing storm sewer grates

Either way, it’s imperative that cyclists keep a keen eye on the road conditions this time year until the patching crews can get some repairs made.