Rental company’s settlement raises questions about Chicago's Divvy bikes

In June 2013, the City of Chicago began a $22 million federally funded Divvy bicycle-sharing service program, making it the largest program of its kind in North America. The purpose of the program is to provide a convenient, inexpensive transportation alternative for commuters travelling into the city on public buses and rail services. Upon reaching the bus stop or rail station, instead of taking a taxi, the commuter has the option to rent a Divvy bike at a nearby bike-share station, and then drop it off at another bike-share station near the commuter's workplace.

Membership fees cost $75 annually for unlimited rentals each day lasting up to 30 minutes per rental, year-round, except when bikes cannot be operated due to bad weather, such as snow, hail, ice, or electrical storms. A $7 daily pass can also be obtained. Overtime fees apply if the bike is not returned within 30-minute deadline after checkout.

Prohibited acts

The rental agreement prohibits certain acts which impede the safe operation of a Divvy bike, such as racing, riding off road, carrying a second person, use of a cell phone, text messaging device or portable music player, or operation of the bike while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Safety inspections; fitness of rider

The agreement states that riders must conduct a safety inspection before each use of a Divvy bike and that the rider represents that he or she is physically fit to ride safely, and is a safe, competent rider who is knowledgeable on operating a bicycle and knowledgeable on the laws regulating the operation of bicycles within the city.

Release, limited liability and assumption of risk

If a Divvy bike rider is injured in an accident the rental contract contains a release of liability to the vendor, the city, any sponsors of the services, and holders of the property where Divvy bicycle stations are located. An exception is made for claims caused by the released parties' gross negligence or willful misconduct. The agreement states that liability is expressly limited to the sum of $100 and the rider assumes responsibility for the risks, dangers, and hazards in riding a Divvy bicycle. In most states, including Illinois, exculpatory agreements releases are disfavored and strictly construed against the benefiting party.

Lakeshore Bike case

In a recent case not involving Divvy bikes, a report in the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed that Lakeshore Bike, a rental company on Chicago's North Side, agreed to pay a settlement of $350,000 to a biker who suffered head and leg injuries after being hit by a car door in Lincoln Park. The claim was based on assertions that the rental company was negligent in failing to provide a helmet and failing to provide safety instructions to the rider. Lakeshore Bike did not admit any fault in the accident.

The settlement has caused some to question whether similar legal claims could be brought under the Divvy bicycle-sharing program. Under the program the use of helmets is also recommended by Divvy, but the vendor does not provide them. Furthermore, according to the Chicago Sun-Times story, the only safety instructions given to Divvy bike riders are some recommendations to "wear a helmet, don't bike on the sidewalk, yield to pedestrians, ride with traffic and follow traffic laws-and not much else."

Individuals who have sustained injuries as a result of the negligent acts or other wrongful conduct of another are urged to seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney in order to protect their legal rights.

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