This is turning out to be a great week for LA’s bicyclists, isn’t it? First bike corrals, and now this:
Today, a new prospective tool was introduced for bicyclists to defend themselves from harassment and assault. An anti-harassment ordinance, the motion to draft it being originally introduced by Council Member Bill Rosendahl, has been released today by the City Attorney’s Office. Pending council approval, bicyclists will be able to bring civil suit against drivers who assault them, harass them, threaten them, or intentionally distract them.
In the ordinance, the City recognizes not only that “people have a right to ride a bicycle in the City of Los Angeles”, but also that bicyclists are harassed and assaulted simply for being bicyclists – this ordinance gives bicyclists the right to go after offenders in court. The ordinance is now a public document, so you can read it yourself.
Criminal Cases are Tough to Prove
While it’s always been illegal to assault (or threaten to assault) a bicyclist, it has been extremely difficult in the past for authorities to prosecute drivers. That’s because if a police officer isn’t on hand to witness the altercation, there generally isn’t enough evidence to prosecute a driver in a criminal case. Cases of attempted assault are particularly hard to prove; a bicyclist using all their skill to avoid the assaults of an out-of-control driver is left with no physical evidence that an assault took place. There are also instances where the intentionally aggressive actions of a driver towards a bicyclist may cause a crash – just not with the driver that initiated it.
Civil Suits – Lowering the Burden of Proof
Civil suits, however, carry a much lower burden of proof than criminal cases. That’s because civil cases are monetary in nature and never carry any jail time. Under the new ordinance, a series of actions taken against a bicyclist are grounds for a civil suit. They are:
- Assaulting, or attempting to assault, a bicyclist;
- Threatening to physically injure a bicyclist;
- Injuring, or attempt to injure, a bicyclist (this can include verbal and non-verbal threats); and
- Intentionally distracting a bicyclist with the intent of causing injury
In these civil suits, drivers who assault or harass bicyclists will be liable for:
- Triple the dollar amount of any resulting damages or $1,000, whichever is larger;
- The attorney’s fees of the bicyclist assaulted/harassed; and
- Any additional punitive damages awarded by a judge or jury
The second stipulation is a very important one. Explicitly covering attorneys’ fees will make it much more likely for a lawyer to take cases with comparatively small monetary damages and make bicyclists far more likely to pursue civil suits when they are threatened, harassed, or assaulted.
Doesn’t Preclude Criminal Charges
Another important point to keep in mind is that nothing in this ordinance precludes bringing criminal charges against a harassing or assaulting driver. Rather than replacing any existing laws, this ordinance provides an additional supplement to help bicyclists defend themselves.
Thanks to the Bike Community
We’d be remiss if we didn’t offer a hearty thanks to the bike community for making this ordinance a reality. The LA bike community unanimously stood in support of this ordinance, and we’ll need their continued dedication to ensure its passage.