Strava is currently being sued by the family of a 41-year-old engineer from Oakland, CA who died two years ago while trying to better a ‘King of the Mountains’ record. At the time of his death, William ‘Kim’ Flint was riding a segment in Berkeley’s Tilden Park at 10 miles per hour over the road’s posted 30 mph limit. Flint was killed when he collided with a car, and the lawsuit which was filed on Monday, June 18th accuses Strava of negligence and encouraging Flint to speed.
A recent article from SFGate suggests that, since Strava notifies users as soon as their time has been beaten, it “makes it look like Strava is egging on the riders to go even faster.” Susan Kang, the attorney representing Flint’s family said of the notification system, “You get a message that says (essentially), ‘Go out there and show them who’s boss.’ “
As news of the lawsuit spread across cycling forums and online communities, recreational and competitive cyclists were quick to weigh in with their opinions. Many defended Strava, with one outraged member of a Cycling News forum arguing, “Sorry, only idiots ride like idiots. No website, gadget, technology can ever take the blame for them, ever.”
On the flip side, with leaderboards, badges for various achievements, and a structure centered around comparing your times and competing with other cyclists, it’s easy to see why some would say Strava encourages reckless behavior. All it takes is one cyclist willing to break the law before the King of the Mountain time is out of reach for every other law abiding cyclist.
GJEL partner, attorney Ralph Jacobson commented about the current lawsuit against Strava: “My own opinion is that I doubt there will be a finding of legal duty (Strava will say it’s just a tool that is out there and they made no “deal” with the rider that requires them, as a matter of public policy, to be responsible for what happened. The connection is pretty remote. I think it is analogous to suing Google for a website you find in a search that ends up defrauding you.”
As Mr. Jacobson notes, the first issue facing the court will be: does Strava owe a legal duty to third parties harmed by its users? Following that, the next issue would be whether the user has waived a claim by agreeing to the disclaimer in the terms of service. Mr. Jacobson adds, on that point: “Even if there is such a duty, if the terms of service were well written, their disclaimer might hold up as a defense. But I could be wrong, that’s what lawsuits are about.” If the court got past those two hurdles, it could then consider whether Strava was negligent, and whether that negligence caused, in whole or in part, Mr. Flint’s death.
Since the initial lawsuit, Strava has updated their terms of service (which they maintain was purely coincidental) to include the following:
“You expressly agree to release Strava, its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, agents, representatives, employees, partners and licensors (the “released parties”) from any and all liability connected with your athletic activities, and promise not to sue the released parties for any claims, actions, injuries, damages, or losses associated with your athletic activities.” But of course that won’t affect the existing suit.
The pending lawsuit definitely questions the entire site’s model of fostering friendly competition. Although the posted routes are designed (and also policed) by the site’s users, a determination that Strava is indeed even partially at fault for Flint’s death could be enough to force Strava into making some serious changes.
No matter how this case comes out, this tragedy serves as a strong reminder that no badge, ranking, or achievement is worth risking your life, or someone else’s. Bicyclists who are riding in the street are part of the traffic flow, and the law is very clear about the responsibilities of cyclists to follow the rules of the road. Obviously a bike can exceed the speed limit the same way a car can: and it’s up to the cyclist to act responsibly. At the end of the day, it’s up to each individual to follow the law and use good judgment, even when a competition or some other distraction may tempt them to ride recklessly.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bendjsf/6206083202/