On May 16, 2002, Maribeth Blonski, 43, of Rocky Hill Connecticut, was severely injured when she rode her bike into a large steel gate at the entrance of the MDC Reservoir in West Hardford. She was knocked unconscious from the impact and fractured several vertebrae.
She clearly felt it wasn’t her fault, and sued the Metropolitan District Commission, claiming the agency endangered people by placing the steel gate on a trail. According to Blonski’s lawyer, Michael Stratton, of Stratten Faxon in New Haven, the gates were installed in various locations during the 70s. In over 30 years, no one has had an issue with the gates. Until that day in May of 2002.
Somehow the judge saw it her way and a jury awarded the amount of $2.9 million. According to this article by the Courant, the jury found MDC liable for improperly placing a steel gate across a “path.” The gate had been installed to block motor vehicle access.
R. Bartley Halloran, the MDC’s chief in-house lawyer, said Sunday through a spokeswoman that the MDC was surprised by the verdict and intends to appeal.
When the accident happened, Blonski was host of a local-access television program about mountain biking, Stratton said. Blonski now works at the front desk of a health club, he said. She previously worked as an illustrator of children’s books.
It took eight years to resolve the case because of a dispute about whether the MDC was immune from responsibility, Stratton said. After a four-day trial before Judge Edward Domnarski, the jury decided the authority was not immune in this instance, and also found that Blonski was partially responsible.
Stratton said Blonski had offered to settle the case for less than the amount awarded by the jury, but MDC refused.
A bike path expert, Lance Robson, testified about problems with the gate, suggested a different device should have been used to restrict vehicle access.
According to the article, MDC was “surprised by the verdict.” I think as mountain bikers, we’re all surprised by the verdict. MDC intends to appeal the ruling. I’ve been watching a lot of court shows this winter, and I have to admit, I’m impressed by the work her lawyers have done. A jury with mountain bikers like myself would never have gone along with that. I’m sorry Ms. Blonski was injured, but as an “experienced” mountain biker, what she has done will effect EVERYONE that rides a bike. The implications of this ruling doesn’t just effect MDC, but everyone that rides a bike on land they themselves do not own. (That is everyone, folks) If you can successfully sue someone else for not looking where you are going, think of the implications that has on land access for a sport that has been entrenched in drama from its inception?
We’re still digging up more info on this case, but check out this Facebook group of Mountain Bikers against awarding Maribeth Blonski 2.9 million. Because of the lawsuit, MDC is already considering closing the area to public use. (to all public use, not just cyclists) Think of the precedence this sets. It isn’t a pretty picture. This case could have a negative effect on land access everywhere in the United States.
For the record, Ms. Blonski appears to have had a Facebook page. Obviously she’s earned a lifetime of bad karma, as the page appears to have been deleted or shut down. (I can only imagine the kinds of messages and hate mail she is currently the recipient of.)
I once had a close encounter with a gate myself. Almost all logging roads in the northwest feature gates. Sometimes they are unlocked and open, and sometimes they are closed. On this day which occurred, over a decade ago, I was leading the charge down the logging road on the way out of the woods in the hills somewhere near Astoria, Oregon. It was during my early years riding bikes, and back then we still rode four inch travel bikes with long stems wearing lycra. (gasp) I came tearing down the road around a corner at speed, only to see that the locked gate was closed. As opposed to hitting the gate straight on, I grabbed brakes and locked them up, dropping the bike on its side and laid everything over, and slid under the gate safely. Mostly safely. Spandex shorts plus rocky logging road is the stuff owies are made of, but I learned my lesson and shared it with my riding buddies when they rolled up to witness me on the ground with torn up shorts and battered hips. Regardless of how it could have ended up, we’re all responsible for our own actions, and holding someone else liable never crossed my mind.
Similar experience #2. A few months ago at Sandy Ridge, I was riding Little Monkey, the beginner/ intermediate jump trail in progress. I aired the step down at the end of the jumps, landed on the clay section and bashed a tree head on, destroying my helmet and the fancy rails on my saddle. It was a painful incident, and led to a reroute of the section of trail, to ensure it didn’t happen to anyone else or cause a similar situation. I was pissed at the poor route of the trail, but holding someone else liable for my injuries?
Cyclist Awared $2.9M after breaking neck (PDF)
Connecticut Jury Awards $2.9M to bicyclist for collision – InsuranceJournal.com
MDC ordered to pay $2.9 million to injured bicyclist – The Hartford Courant
Mountain Biking imperiled on MDC lands – Hardford Courant