Some of our readers may recall our article in the Spring 2002 issue of Michigan Bicyclist in which we discussed whether or not cyclists were obligated to ride on the shoulder. It was our opinion then that it is good habit and common sense to ride on the shoulder if it is suitable. Suitable means a shoulder that it is paved and free of glass, debris and potholes.
What if the shoulder is not suitable and a bicyclist is injured due to improper maintenance of that shoulder? Michigan no fault law requires a governmental agency having jurisdiction over any highway to maintain the highway in reasonable repair so that it is reasonably safe and convenient for public travel. MCL 691.1402(1). This exception to governmental immunity, in theory, would allow a cyclist to sue a governmental entity for injuries sustained due to potholes, improperly maintained roadways and other hazards.
Over the years, Michigan courts have been narrowing the circumstances under which a cyclist can obtain redress for injuries caused by poor road conditions. The Michigan Supreme Court recently eliminated any doubt as to whether or not a governmental entity can be sued for failing to maintain the shoulder. In Grimes v. Michigan Department of Transportation, ___ Mich. ____, (2006) (docket no. 127901)1, the Michigan Supreme Court holding has made it virtually impossible for cyclists to sue for injuries sustained due to improperly maintained shoulders. In a nutshell, the Court held that if you are injured due to an improperly maintained shoulder, you cannot sue the Michigan Department of Transportation for your injuries. In that decision, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled Gregg v Michigan State Highway Dept., 447 Mich. 145 (1990) in which the court previously held that a cyclist or motorist could sue the governmental entity for injuries due to an improperly maintained shoulder.
The legislature’s express purpose for passing the no fault law was to enhance the safety of public travel on the roadway. Contrary to that purpose, the Michigan Supreme Court has been slowly eliminating any protections that motorists and cyclists once had. Interestingly, the current Michigan Supreme Court is one of the most active courts in the nation in overruling prior decisions.
What does this mean for bicyclists? It means that bicyclists must ride on the shoulder at his or her risk. We still think it is safer for bicyclists to utilize suitable shoulders for travel. It is also arguable that a cyclist that chooses not to cycle on a suitable shoulder could be found contributorily negligent, if involved in an accident with a motor vehicle. (See Should I Ride on the Shoulder? Spring 2002 issue of Michigan Bicyclist Spring 2002) Prudence dictates the use of common sense. In the final analysis, it is up to the cyclist to ensure his or her safety.
As always, we welcome all questions, ideas and inquiries. Ride Safely!