Should I require liability waivers for San Jose Bike Train?

Because I organize San Jose Bike Train — the twice monthly bike ride to encourage people to try commuting by bike across the city of San Jose — I’ve opened myself up to liability. I’ve realized this from the start, but think about the potential impact only occasionally.

If you don't crash you're not trying hard enough

My lawyer friends tell me I should at least require participants to sign a liability waiver. I think most people won’t mind doing this, but I’ve resisted because it adds a “pro” feel to this ride that I’d like to avoid.

Jim Moss of Recreation Law in Colorado writes about bicycle events and liability at his blog. One of the very good points he brings up that I hadn’t considered: Even if an injured participant is your best bro, you might still get your pants sued off because:

  • Subrogation: This is the clause in every insurance policy which says they can sue whoever on your behalf to recover costs. I was once forced to sue my employer after my fire insurance company determined their computer equipment I brought home for work started the fire. Your health insurance may try to go after whoever they think caused your bike injury.
  • Surviving spouse: Writes Moss of this, “Facing life with no breadwinner, a surviving spouse with several kids and no interest in cycling, and who saw cycling as a money pit, might not have any qualms suing you.”

Jim makes several other good points in his article about bike shop liability for events. Once I can afford it I’ll probably pay him to write up a liability release for San Jose Bike Train.

Your thoughts? Yay or nay on a waiver for a casual commute?


  1. A friend of mine was hit by a car last year while bicycling. Her injuries were not as bad as some other bicycle crashes you hear about, but she still faced substantial costs including emergency room and surgery expenses, recovery and physical therapy expenses, loss of income for 1 year when she could not work, loss of clients who had to take their business elsewhere and may not return, etc. She does have good medical insurance, but as you said, the medical insurance company does try to collect from the at-fault party. Fortunately, the driver had decent liability insurance and settled out-of-court.

    I’m not a lawyer or insurance expert, but after the above experience, I do recommend having a good chat with your lawyer and insurance agent. Umbrella liability insurance policies are relatively inexpensive. If you have reasonable insurance coverage, most victims will rather settle than sue.

    Your case is obviously different from my friend’s since you’re probably not going to directly cause someone’s injuries (like a car driver), but that’s where a good chat with your lawyer and insurance company can help you understand your liability. I know that most bicycle clubs do require a liability waiver, but they also back that up with good insurance.

  2. ACTC, and I think WWBC, are good analogies with waivers. “CYA” with a waiver, or re-phrase your role from “leader” to “I will be riding this route, feel free to join me…”

  3. I wish I could say nay, but you can never be too careful. I’ve kind of backed off from being the organizer of Kidical Mass rides in my area because of liability concerns and I DO require a waiver for the goldsprints races I put on.

  4. I don’t think “a surviving spouse with several kids and no interest in cycling, and who saw cycling as a money pit,” is your main problem. If the deceased spouse was interested in bike commuting they probably already do. If they were part of the bike train it would probably be more to support your efforts than anything else.

    The person that would consern me is the one that is riding their toys r us mountain bike that has been hanging in the garage unused for the last twenty years.

    A waiver would be the prudent thing to do, it does also demonstrats that while safe it is not risk free. It is a shame it has to come to that for something that (at least seems to me) to be more or less loosely organized (that is not part of a club or bike shop etc).

  5. with wavers comes mandatory helmets…. i probably won’t be able to ride near you guys then… i mean it is a private trail and all that…

    perhaps you should just look into getting an umbrella policy… pretty sure that is what the sj bike valet operates under.

  6. With continued advancement in apps, and a little help from the city, there may be no need to officially organize. You would just need to point out an app to use that would be checking meta data for where the riders were/are and using predictive modeling tell you what exact time would be best to leave in order to be near the highest density of riders on your route. Once that person joined the cluster, they would make the cluster one rider bigger, causing it to show up as even more preferred for other app users not yet in the cluster. Like a predictive Strava flyby count (or anti-WAZE) but pulling data from multiple sources, both historic and real time. Thus over time groups of riders would form organically without any formal process and no official organizer or leader.

    The key would be to place bike detection sensors at strategic locations in order to enhance the database used for predictive modeling. Those sensors are needed anyway to replace the insufficient yearly manual counts being done. SJDOT placed numerous pedestrian sensors on Communication Hill due to a few neighbors who didn’t like too many pedestrians walking around their neighborhood. Instead of a pedestrian discouragement program, how about placing sensors that could actually improve mobility for the whole city. SJDOT is also placing 148 anyCOMM WiFi sensor packet modules around the city, but they are only to monitor car traffic and exclude the counting of pedestrians and cyclists. Also even though many of the anyCOMM modules will be at high crash corridor intersections, SJDOT intentionally and unnecessarily turned off the looped camera feature which would have enabled the recording of collisions at these intersections, which would have then lifted the shroud of mystery around almost every single collision that occurs. Its this not knowing what happened which I think does a lot of discouragement for borderline cyclists. I’m getting way off topic, but my point is that a bike detection sensor program should be well within the existing resources of the city based on some of their seemingly anti-sustainable-mobility related efforts.

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