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COA awards summary judgment to city in mountain bike liability case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals granted summary judgment in favor of the city of Indianapolis and Indy Parks and Recreation department after determining that the city was not liable for injuries sustained by a mountain biker as he was riding on a city-owned trail.

In July 2011, Richard Kaler and his girlfriend were riding a mountain bike trail at Town Run Trail Park, owned by the city of Indianapolis through the Indy Parks and Recreation, when Kaler rode over the low-grade portion of a berm, which required him to do “a little bunny hop” to get back on the trail. However, on his second time through the trail, when it was beginning to get dark outside, Kaler opted to ride over the high-grade portion of the berm, lost control and fell down a two-foot drop.

Kaler was diagnosed with lacerations to his spleen and kidney, yet refused physical therapy and participated in a 100-mile bike ride later that summer. However, in September 2012, Kaler filed a complaint against the city on the basis of premises liability.

In response, the city moved for summary judgment, which the Marion Superior Court denied. The city appealed, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in a Thursday decision.

Drawing on precedent from the cases of Burrell v. Meads, 569 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 1991) and Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392(Ind. 2011), Judge Patricia Riley, writing for the appellate panel, said the designated evidence in Kaler’s case does not satisfy the three requirements laid out in Burrell with respect to the duty component of premises liability.

Specifically, Riley wrote that “it was objectively reasonable for the City … to expect Kaler to appreciate the risks of riding the trail and take suitable protections.” The difficulty of the trail was advertised as beginner through intermediate, and Kaler described himself as a “sophisticated” cyclist who enjoyed obstacles, such as berms, Riley said. Thus, it was objective and reasonable for the city to expect Kaler to recognize the trail’s risk and take appropriate precautions, the judge wrote.

Additionally, Kaler testified in a deposition that being involved in a bicycle crash was a general consequence of the sport, Riley wrote, so he cannot establish that the city had actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the trail that posed unreasonable risk, another of the three Burrell factors.

Further, the appellate court held Thursday Kaler was contributorily negligent in his fall from the berm because he “knew and understood the precautions a reasonably prudent mountain biker should take – inspect the feature prior to riding it – but chose not to follow them.”

The panel, therefore, reversed the denial of summary judgment and found in favor of the city in the case of Hoosier Mountain Bike Association, Inc., City of Indianapolis, and Indy Parks and Recreation v. Richard Kaler, 49A04-1604-CT-865.

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