Lawyer Sues New York City for Failing to Enforce Bicycle Speed Limits in Central Park

A blind lawyer injured by a speeding cyclist in New York’s Central Park has filed a lawsuit – but not against the offending rider.  Richard Bernstein is instead filing a lawsuit against the city for failing to keep people with disabilities safe in public parks. Alleging a violation of the American with Disabilities Act, the attorney is going after the city for its failure to enforce the 25 mile an hour speed limit that bicyclists are restricted to.   Mr. Bernstein is attempting to show that the city fails to enforce the speed limit, and as a result he, a disabled person, was put at risk and suffered physical harm.

Mr. Bernstein is not only attempting to seek compensation for his injuries, but to “make this park safe.”  According to his claim, the speed limits are routinely not enforced, and, as a result, individuals with disabilities are at a risk for injury.

At the outset, this lawsuit seems unlikely to succeed because he will likely have a hard time proving the city contributed to the cause of his injury. Mr. Bernstein suffered was injured by a cyclist running into him and it will be hard for him to show that the city shares responsibility for his particular accident.  Even if he could show that New York City routinely ignores the speed limit, it will be hard for him to show that in this particular incident some city employee had a chance to prevent the collision by enforcing the 25 mile per hour law.  

If the lawsuit focuses not on his injury, but on generally unsafe conditions for Americans with disabilities in New York’s Central Park, it is still a long shot.  Mr. Bernstein would have to accumulate a history of events dangerous to Americans with disabilities that are caused by New York’s failure to enforce speed limits. In reality, the data necessary to show that New York City has, by failing to enforce laws, created an unsafe environment for Americans with disabilities probably doesn't exist, and if it did, it would be virtually impossible to gather.

Proving a party is legally liable for a failure to act can come with considerable difficulty for any plaintiff, and this case faces a significant uphill battle.  Linking New York City to his injury, or to an unsafe environment for Americans with disabilities, is going to be almost impossible to show in a court of law.

It is worth noting that not all lawsuits are filed with the intention of success.  By filing his lawsuit, Mr. Bernstein has already taken a step towards accomplishing his ultimate goal of increasing park safety – he has made his accident and his injury public.  While the court of law may require significant evidence to demonstrate cause, the court of public opinion is far less picky.  Public awareness of this issue can lead to increased scrutiny by police officers, and more tickets for speeding cyclists.  It may also lead to cyclists slowing down to avoid a problem that they were previously not aware of.  Regardless of his success in the courtroom, Mr. Bernstein has created attention using a legal process.  That attention may be enough to get him the outcome he desires, at least until the public eye is diverted by the next social calamity to hit the headlines.

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