According to court records in the case, the plaintiff, a mountain biker, suffered injuries to his kidney and spleen after falling from his bicycle on a portion of the Town Run Trail Park that runs through Indianapolis. The city contracts with a local mountain biking association to maintain the trails, which are rated based on difficulty and skill level required. In early 2011, an Eagle Scout designed and constructed a technical feature on the trail. The feature is best described as a berm. It created a banked wooden turn. Approaching riders would have three options: avoid it by staying on the dirt path, enter and ride on the low grade, or negotiate the turn and take the more challenging higher grade.
That summer, the plaintiff and his girlfriend went to the trail to ride for the first time since this new feature was constructed. He had about five years of experience riding, and he’d been on this trail before. However, he had not encountered this new feature. He noted in his deposition that he would usually try to get an idea of a trail’s technical requirements before riding, particularly if he was concerned about a potential danger.
Still, he stated that he did understand that routinely falling off the bike was a “general consequence of the sport.”
The pair approached this berm, and the plaintiff reportedly chose to take the more challenging option. He fell as a result, suffering injuries. Still, he was able to ride his bicycle back to the top of the trail, and he and his girlfriend went out to dinner that evening. However, hours later, the pain was worsening, and he went to the hospital. It was there he was diagnosed with lacerations to his spleen and kidney.
Within two months after the vehicle accident, he participated in a 100-mile bicycle ride.
The plaintiff thereafter filed an Indiana personal injury lawsuit against the city, alleging premises liability and seeking compensation for his medical bills.
Per the so-called “Burrell test,” based on the 1991 decision in Burrell v. Meads, Indiana landowners can be liable for injuries to those welcomed on the site if the landowner:
- Knew or should have discovered in the exercise of reasonable care that there was an unreasonable risk of harm to invitees;
- Should have expected invitees would not discover or realize the danger or would fail to protect themselves against it; and
- Failed to exercise reasonable care to protect invitees against the danger.
A later Indiana Supreme Court case, Pfenning v. Lineman, applied this ruling to participation in sports activities. In that case, the plaintiff was struck by a golf ball on a golf course, which the court ruled did not constitute as an “unreasonable risk of harm.”
In the present case, the court ruled, the evidence did not support the assertion that an experienced rider would fail to appreciate the risks of riding the trail and not taking appropriate precautions. Furthermore, the court ruled the evidence presented did not establish the city had actual or constructive knowledge that the trail presented an unreasonable risk of harm to the rider. Thus, the court reversed the trial court’s earlier denial of summary judgment favoring the city.
Although this is a disappointing outcome for the plaintiff, it’s important to review cases like this to weigh the viability of similar claims. Still, this is just one case, and our injury attorneys urge anyone with questions to seek a free consultation to explore your legal options.
Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
City of Indianapolis et al. v. Kaler, March 23, 2017, Indiana Court of Appeals
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