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Posted by on Feb 18, 2011 in Uncategorized | 10 comments

Anti-Harassment Ordinance Gives Civil Court Advantage

The City of Los Angeles has released a new ordinance to help bicyclists recover damages for harassment and assault. It is pending approval by the city council.

You can read about it and download the ordinance itself here.

Protecting Bicyclists’ Rights: Anti-Harassment Ordinance, Soon-to-be Law

As we’ve discussed on CommuteOrlando many times, enforcing existing (or new) criminal laws against assaulting bicyclists is problematic. If it is not witnessed by an officer, there is usually no evidence with which to prosecute. This frustrating fact makes police departments reluctant to even send an officer when a bicyclist calls in a complaint. This, in turn, makes bicyclists feel helpless and disenfranchised.

LADOT recognizes this:

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.

Rather than add a new criminal law, this ordinance gives bicyclists the right to go after harassers for civil damages.

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:

  1. Assaulting, or attempting to assault, a bicyclist;
  2. Threatening to physically injure a bicyclist;
  3. Injuring, or attempt to injure, a bicyclist (this can include verbal and non-verbal threats); and
  4. Intentionally distracting a bicyclist with the intent of causing injury

The ordinance supplements, it does not preclude, criminal charges. So if there is evidence, an assaulting driver can still be prosecuted in criminal court.

So, what do you think about this?

10 Comments

  1. Why does it seem that some of the best (although also, admittedly, some of the worst) fashions start in Los Angeles?

  2. Even though it’s impractical to outfit all bicycles with video and audio recording devices, this is encouraging for those who do so, even if only as a hobby.

    Number 3. “Injuring, or attempt to injure, a bicyclist (this can include verbal and non-verbal threats)” would appear to include threats posted online, which is a common situation on many online video forums.

    • I’m sure video would make it easier to win in court. HD video also saves you the trouble of trying to see and memorize the license plate.

  3. Giving harassed parties an alternate means of obtaining redress seems a LOT better than yet more criminal laws which won’t be enforced and which mainly exist so advocates claim they have done something.

  4. My wife could probably make her living just riding to and from work rather than having to actually work! LOL

    • But she’d probably end up spending it all on lawyers.

  5. Call me a pessimist, because it’s true. I think it’s likely this won’t really change anything, since the bar of entry for a civil suit is significantly higher than going to the police. There’s also the risk that the court will decide that the cyclist should have been riding farther to the right.

  6. I think this is good. there are statuatory damages in the law, so you wonkt have to prove damages under $1k.

    This gives power back to the people, much like the stattuatory damages for bad collection agencies work. Its a very good step in the right direction

  7. Cycling advocacy groups in areas with such laws need to put together guides to help cyclists file suits themselves. Make it as easy as possible for such suits to be filed. Even if a fraction of the suits are won, the message will get out: harass a cyclist and expect to spend money and time in court.

  8. Interesting concept, civil vs. criminal charges. What about poor cycling?

    Great graphic! I’ve seen that person on my regular route, he cooled his jets after I reported his baloney. I suspect a friendly call from the deputy cleared up his perspective/attitude. Is that too hard?