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  • Tue February 12 2008
  • Posted Feb 12, 2008
By JASON CLAYWORTH Bicycle riders would be unable to collect damages from a county or city for most accidents under legislation that the Iowa State Association of Counties has drafted for state lawmakers' consideration. Counties or cities would not be liable for injuries or damages resulting from bike accidents on their roads unless it was shown that government officials were notified of a road deficiency before an accident and that road crews neglected to take action, according to the legislative proposal. The proposal comes after Crawford County paid $350,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a woman whose husband died in a bike accident in 2004. The RAGBRAI rider was thrown from his bicycle after hitting a crack along a county road. As a result of the lawsuit, dozens of county officials from around the state have asked lawmakers to exempt counties from liability in bike accidents. "Our goal is to try to come up with something that doesn't inhibit bicyclists' rights but also clarifies the responsibilities of counties," Bill Peterson, executive director of the Iowa State Association of Counties, said Monday. The association plans to ask members of the House Local Government Committee to introduce the bill within the next couple of weeks. The committee's vice chairman, Rep. Bob Kressig, said Monday he thought a previous idea that would totally exempt counties from bicycle liability went too far and had little chance of passage. He said he thinks laws should protect citizens, not governments. Kressig, a Cedar Falls Democrat and 18-time RAGBRAI rider, said he believes the latest proposal would be more likely to gain approval. "I want to look at it," Kressig said. Mark Wyatt, the executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, said his group is opposed to the proposal. Lawsuits from bicyclists against counties and cities are rare, he said. Because the Crawford County case was settled out of court, there was no precedent set on whether the county might have been found liable. RAGBRAI, which stands for the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is sponsored by The Des Moines Register. The newspaper has not taken a position on the proposal, according to Susan Patterson Plank, vice president of marketing at the Register. "From our point of view, we think it's a complicated issue and we hope people will spend time thinking about the impact and outcome of any legislation that is passed," Patterson Plank said Monday. Crawford County in October banned RAGBRAI and similar events from county roadways. John Lawler, chairman of the Crawford County Board of Supervisors, said that the Association of Counties' proposal isn't strong enough but that it would be enough to reinstate RAGBRAI in his county if the idea gains legislative approval. He favors a law that completely eliminates a county's liability. "We cannot tell people that riding a bike is as safe as riding a Buick because it isn't," Lawler said Monday. Reporter Jason Clayworth can be reached at (515) 699-7058 or jclayworth@dmreg.com

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