Wednesday, April 10, 2013
C.A. Upholds Defense Verdict in Car-Bicycle Collision
Panel Says Negligence Per Se Instruction Was Wrong, but Harmless
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk against the flow of street traffic is not negligence per se absent a local ordinance that prohibits riding on the sidewalk or specifies the direction in which bicycles are to be ridden, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Four ruled that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz, since retired, erred by giving a negligence per se instruction at the behest of the defense in the case of a cyclist who was suing a motorist who struck him as she was exiting a shopping center. But the error was harmless, Justice Steven Suzukawa wrote, because the jury found the driver not negligent.
The plaintiff, Micheal Spriesterbach, was a student at Santa Monica College, riding home after class in March 2010. He testified that he was riding in the streets, with traffic, until he noticed road construction at National Blvd. and Barrington St. in Los Angeles.
Believing it unsafe to remain in the street, he moved onto the sidewalk adjacent to National, riding against traffic and next to a hedge and a wall separating the sidewalk from a supermarket parking lot. He said he noticed Janet Holland’s car stopped at the threshold, but did not stop or seek her attention because he assumed she either saw him or would remain stopped while waiting for cross-traffic to pass.
Holland said she never saw him before the impact. She said she was inching her way out of the parking lot, waiting to see what traffic was beyond the wall.
Lefkowitz told the jury that bicycles must be ridden with the flow of traffic when ridden on the sidewalk, and that failure to do so is negligence per se.
That instruction was wrong, Suzukawa explained yesterday for the Court of Appeal, because the City of Los Angeles does not have an ordinance requiring bicycles to ride with traffic or to stay off sidewalks, and that the statutes relied on by the trial judge, Vehicle Code Sec. 21650 and 21650.1, do not impose any such requirement.
The statutes, he explained, allow bicycles to be ridden on “on any sidewalk” except as prohibited by other code provisions or by ordinance, and provide that when a bicycle is ridden on a “roadway” or the “shoulder of a highway,” they must be ridden in the same direction as vehicular traffic.
A sidewalk, the justice wrote, is not a roadway or the shoulder of a highway, according to the definitions of those terms elsewhere in the code.
In a footnote, Suzukawa bemoaned the patchwork of ordinances governing bicycle safety.
“According to the ‘L.A. County Sidewalk Riding Guide’ maintained by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) Bike Blog, sidewalk riding is permitted in 12 cities in Los Angeles County and is prohibited in 32 cities and the county itself. In 25 cities, sidewalk riding is not permitted in ‘business districts;’ in another 19 cities, there is no clear language in the municipal code concerning sidewalk bicycle riding.”
The justice went on to write:
“We…urge the Legislature to adopt uniform legislation governing bicycle riding on sidewalks. In the absence of such uniform legislation, we fear that collisions like the one here will continue to occur.”
The instructional error, however, was harmless in light of the special verdict, Suzukawa said. He rejected the argument that jurors were likely misled to believe that they could not find the defendant negligent because the plaintiff was riding in the wrong direction.
“Nothing in the court’s instructions suggested that Holland was not required to watch for, or yield to, persons or vehicles approaching from the right. To the contrary, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the court’s instructions …was that Holland had a duty to be aware of, and yield to, traffic approaching from any direction.”
The case is Spriesterbach v. Holland, 13 S.O.S. 1789.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company