Mike Bagg was riding his bicycle in a bike lane in El Paso when he hit an eroded area of concrete and crashed. Faced with $70K of medical bills, he and his family decided to hold the Texas Department of Transportation responsible. Against all odds, they won.
Lawyers from Bike Law represented Mike during the legal proceedings. You can read the whole story on their blog here.
This case is remarkable for a few reasons. First, it’s almost impossible for citizens to successfully sue their state for dangerous roads. When we previously wrote about the “most dangerous road in America,” we saw that families had tried to sue New York for the deaths of their children, but they would only have a case if they could prove there’s a specific flaw in the road’s design. Regular deaths are not considered a flaw.
Mike’s case was different. There was a distinct flaw in the section of road where he crashed. Part of the concrete had developed a gap which could catch bicycle tires. This was well-known and documented by other locals, and he was not the first person to complain about it.
Yet, the TxDOT did everything they could to fight the lawsuit. They were so confident that they would win that they refused to settle, and they denied having any knowledge of the road’s flaw even when faced with evidence to the contrary.
But their confidence eventually met its comeuppance. The jury unanimously voted in Mike’s favor, and the judge awarded him just over one million dollars in damages.
This case proves that it’s possible to win against the state, but it also demonstrates how herculean of a challenge it is. The TxDOT is clearly accustomed to operating outside of ordinary forms of accountability. Even when Mike played by their rules and held them to their own standards, he faced an uphill battle.
Another takeaway is the difference that ordinary citizens can make. Mike’s lawyers found that a lot of people knew about the pavement’s defects, and some them had also crashed. However, most had never complained about it. One person who had previously complained ended up serving as a valuable witness in the case. The lesson is that even if your complaint doesn’t seem to make a difference right now, it can always have an impact down the road.