Is the City of Atlanta Liable if You Crash Your Bike Because of Faulty Sewer Grates?


Atlanta Bicycle Accident Legal Issues

You are riding your bike down the street when suddenly your wheel goes into the slats of a sewer grate that is aligned parallel to the flow of traffic, you fly over your handlebars and crash face first in the street.This is every rider’s nightmare as they ride through the streets of Atlanta and it was the phone call the our Atlanta injury law firm got last week after the victim got out of facial surgery.

The question is, given the sovereign immunity that the City of Atlanta enjoys, is there anyway to hold the City responsible for not aligning the grate perpendicular to the wheels? The answer is fortunately, “yes.”

Under OCGA 36-60-5, every time the City installs a new grate on the streets, it is supposed to be oriented perpendicular to traffic for bike safety. Furthermore, sovereign immunity is not a bar because
“[a] municipality is bound to use ordinary care to keep its public streets and sidewalks… in a safe condition for travel…and in case of failure to exercise such care, the city is liable for damages resulting therefrom.” City Council of Augusta v. Tharpe, 113 Ga. 152 (1901)

This issue has not only been litigated in the past, but our appellate courts have actually issued some beneficial rulings on the subject and the City cannot have the case thrown out of court on summary judgment. Please find the most relevant case ruling below:

In the case of DEWATERS v. CITY OF ATLANTA, 169 Ga. App. 41 (1983) a bicyclist sued the City of Atlanta after he crashed his bike when his bike wheel feel into a sewer grate that was aligned the wrong way.

The issue of the City’s liability went up to the Court of Appeals and the Court considered whether the City was immune from suit or not. First the Court observed that as early as 1983 the State had a policy of installing sewer grates with a bike-friendly alingment: OCGA 36-60-5 (Code Ann. 69-1612).

The City argued that installing sewer grates was a governmental function and that they are immune from suit. Fortunately that argument was shot down to the holding in City Council of Augusta v. Tharpe which held that there is a duty on municipalities to keep the sidewalks and roadways safe.

Georgia state law also requires bike rides to ride ” as near to the right side of the roadway as
practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one
proceeding in the same direction.” OCGA 40-6-294
The Court went on to reason that it would be for a jury to decide whether the City had a duty to warn bike riders or to replace the grate.

When our client’s case gets filed, the City of Atlanta will no doubt try to relitigate the issue but with these time-honored rules in place, we will get justice for our client.

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