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Cyclist Dies in High-Speed Crash: Did He Assume the Risk?

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By Robin Enos on May 13, 2011 6:49 AM

Racing cyclists must wear hard helmets to protect their heads in falls. But accidents still happen. Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt died recently after a high-speed downhill crash at the Giro d'Italia, a road race in Northern Italy, reports the Associated Press.

Weylandt died after he fell during a fast descent down a mountain road.

According to race officials, the Belgian's left pedal got stuck in a wall at the side of the road, forcing Weylandt to tumble about 66 feet to the ground below. He suffered a skull fracture. Medical efforts to revive him on the roadway failed, reports the Associated Press.

Bicycles races move fast. Cyclists pedal desperately, in close packs, on old roads in historic mountain country.

So if that tragic incident happened in the United States, would the doctrine of primary implied assumption of risk shield race organizers from liability for wrongful death?

Generally, a plaintiff is barred from suing for injuries under the doctrine of assumption of risk, if the plaintiff freely and knowingly assumed the risk of injury. To say it another way, a plaintiff is barred from suing for injuries caused by a risk which is inherent in the activity.

There are exceptions--intentional injuries, or conduct that is so reckless as to be totally outside the range of ordinary activity in the sport, or taking the risk beyond the inherent risk of the sport.

Weylandt, an experienced international road racer, knew he was competing against the fastest racers in the world. He had ridden the Giro d'Italia before. He knew the risks, just as all the professional racers know them.

Every case rises or falls on its own merits, and there may be facts about Wouter Weylandt, his bicycle or the wall we do not know. But based on the story as reported, it looks like the race organizers would have a strong assumption of risk defense.

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