By Michael Howell
John Cornish of the Florence Park District recently reported to the County Commissioners that the cost of the District’s insurance may be going up following a settlement agreement resolving a lawsuit over a bicycle accident on the bike path installed as part of the Highway 93 improvements.
When the Highway 93 improvements were being made the citizens lobbied for a bike path to be installed as part of the improvement project. Part of the agreement with the Montana Department of Transportation, however, was that the county would take on the responsibility to keep the path free of snow
Initially the Ravalli County Park Board stepped up and took on the responsibility when the county agreed to fund the cost of a small tractor and plow to the tune of $6,000. The Florence Park District agreed to plow the portion of the path that passes through its district. Since that time, Cornish has been plowing the bike path from Florence north to the county line.
But with no further funding forthcoming, the Ravalli County Park Board decided in midsummer this year to rescind its decision and hand that responsibility back to the County Commission.
Earlier in the year, however, there was a single bicycle accident on the pathway as it passes through Florence in front of the Bum Steer. The bicyclist ran into a pile of ice and gravel in the bike path and was injured. His medical bills came to somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000, according to Cornish, and he sued the Bum Steer to recover those costs. The Bum Steer, in turn, sued the Florence Park District. By the time it reached court the injured party was asking for $600,000. Cornish said that the two insurance companies involved agreed to an out-of-court settlement of about $100,000 and split the cost. The park district’s insurance company will pay out about $47,500, he said. As a result insurance premiums will go up, but he does not know exactly how much.
Pictures of the accident site show that the pathway was not covered in snow, however, a small berm of frozen gravel and ice had been left in the pathway after the Bum Steer parking lot had been plowed. Deputy County Attorney Dan Browder told the Commissioners that since the contract with MDOT only required the county to keep the pathway free of snow that it was not clear that the county had any responsibility, however, once an insurance company takes on a case the decision to settle or proceed rests with the company.
After some discussion the Commissioners decided that it would be wise to consolidate all the various memorandums of understanding that exist for maintenance of various stretches of the bike path, which runs from the Missoula County line to Hamilton, so that an overall maintenance plan can be funded and coordinated.