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Potholes ‘caused motorcyclist death’

Potholes and negligent road maintenance can and have led to motorcycle crashes with legal experts now suggesting those who crash should sue the authorities.

In the latest case, a Michigan widow is suing over the death of motorcyclist Matthew Michael Denney, 42, who was leading a Blessing of the Bikes ride when he hit not one, but two potholes just over the crest of a hill.

Memorial for rider near the potholes that claimed his life
Memorial for rider near the potholes that claimed his life

Matt lost control of his 2006 Suzuki when he hit the first large pothole, then flew over the handlebars when he hit the second pothole. He was not wearing a helmet and died instantly on impact with the road. (It is legal in Michigan to not wear a helmet if you are over 21, have $20,000 insurance and have held a licence a minimum of two years. That’s a whole other issue!)

The potholes have since been filled.

Australian riders can also sue for negligent road maintenance, says Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Malcolm Cummings.

He says authorities and roadworks contractors have an obligation to provide safe roads or a safe alternate route for all road users during maintenance.

“Obviously what may be safe for some road users may not be safe for motorcyclists,” says Malcolm who is investigating a case of a Melbourne rider who crashed his new Kawasaki 250 in clay left at a site where roadworks had recently been completed.

“There is also a duty of care to clear up a roadworks site making it safe for all road users, motorcyclists included. In this case, they’d finished their works and done some clearing up but they left some and he slipped. He suffered some significant orthopaedic injuries including a nasty fracture of a bone in his shoulder which needed an operation and the insertion of plates and screws. As a result he has lost the ability to return to his trade.” Malcolm says the rider’s bike was only slightly damaged in the low-speed crash.

“There is a general duty at common law to ensure that work that has been performed doesn’t put riders in a situation of danger,” says Malcolm. “As a general principle where negligent road works or maintenance results in damage or injury there has been a breach of common law. There may also be statutory provisions in various jurisdictions. Without any detours, to have a road in a state that is not safe to be navigating is obviously problematic.”

  1. I am in a bit of a mixed mind about this – on one level yes the road should be free from defects that can cause loss of control, but on the other hand I do believe that riders should be competent enough to ride on a wide variety surfaces, including ones that are loose and slippery.

  2. Isn’t there something in the workplace health and safety in Australia that covers this kind of thing with potholes in the road ?

  3. Lawyers are gonna argue that he wasn’t wearing a helmet so he contributed to the seriousness of his accident. That’s how lawyers work.

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