Article in Bicycle Industry & Industry News (BRAIN) points out major issues in not understanding when a retailer is liable.

Remember the “Ride Board” in college? People looking for rides and people going somewhere with cars would post on the ride board. College’s involvement was the board, nothing more. If you are more than a “board,” you may have legal issues as a retailer.

Bicycle Retailer and Industry News is the trade magazine for the cycling industry. One of their columns is titled Retail and asks several retailers a question each edition about a topic of importance. The September 1, 2015 issue, Vol. 24, Number 15, page 18, asked the question “Does your shop host group rides? Is liability a concern?

The answers from the retailers were all over the spectrum, as usual. However, what caught my attention was the lack of knowledge on where the liability boundary lies with retailers.

Below are quotes from the article and my response about what the liability may really be.


“We have a weekly road rides that leaves from the store, but it’s just a starting point – the shop doesn’t really have anything to do with it.”

Hopefully, this statement is 100% correct. However, the issue is not what the liability is from the shops’ viewpoint but the liability from the customers and riders’ viewpoint. Do they see the shop as hosting the ride or does the shop just function as an address and parking lot?

Remember the ride board in college. It was usually a cork board with pins. People with cars going someplace looking for people to share gas or costs would post the info about their trip on the board. People looking for a ride someplace would also post their info on the board. If things matched a driver with a car got a rider for the trip.

The sole involvement of the college was the cork board, maybe pins and the 3X5 cards. The college did no go find drivers or riders. Consequently, the college’s involvement created no legal liability.

Legal liability attaches when you create a duty, an obligation to someone. That usually is not from your perspective but from the perspective of the injured party. Do the riders’ meeting at your store understand that you have no liability for the ride? That you are offering your packing lot as a service and that service ends when the riders walk out your door and leave on the ride.

A group ride where the retailer can’t be liable should probably be run the same way. In litigation, any involvement by the retailer can be interpreted as legally liable for the ride. Employees in kits from the retailer, employees organizing or leading the ride, or the employees telling customers about the stores rides might be enough to drag the retailer into court. Advertising the ride in a newsletter or online may create that misunderstanding in a rider.

Probably, retailers should jump in and get involved in the ride, have liability insurance to protect them from incidents on the ride and have a release signed or just put up a ride board. You are generating positive community feelings with the ride, which may be blunted by not telling anyone about them and telling those that show up you are not responsible for them.


“A weekly group ride leaves from our store, but it is organized by the participants.  We also hope to have gravel/adventure and mountain group rides leaving from out shop in the near future.”

The issue here was the two different sentences in the quote. If the participants truly are running the ride and the store is just an address, then the store is probably not liable. However, the store created liability when it said, “we hope to have” other rides. If the store wants the rides, is the store liable for the rides? That could be an issue.

You can probably create a ride board like situation with your newsletter or website; however, that would require a disclaimer. Actively going out and getting people to show up for a ride probably places you in a different view from the people showing up for the ride.


“Several of our structured activities, like an “Introduction to Mountain Biking” series, are led by a professional instructor who carries her own insurance for groups like this.”

This is one way of avoiding liability but only if you go the extra steps.

1.     The professional leading the rides MUST list the store on her insurance policy as an additional insured. Just because she has insurance does not mean the insurance will cover the store. If the store is found to have something to do with the ride, only if the store is covered as an additional insured will the instructor’s insurance be of any help.

The rider can have insurance and defend any claim but the store maybe left holding the bag. The professional’s insurance will not cover the store, unless there is an agreement, naming the store as an additional insured, to do so.

Just because one of the two possible defendants has insurance will not protect the one without insurance. If the injury is great enough or the medical bills large enough, the injured party, their insurance company and their attorney will look to anyone who might be able to write a check for the damages.

2.     The professional rider should have a release that covers her and the store. That way, the instructor and the store and both protected rather than the injured consumer realizing the rider can’t be sued because of the release suing the store because they were not covered by the release.

Again if the professional rider has a release that protects her, the injured party may immediately turn to the store. The store is no covered by the release it makes the lawsuit against the store much easier. Small claims through many big claims will be started against the retailer than fight a release.


“We try to keep a pretty chill attitude around the shop and events, and that tends to attract less litigious group of people.”

A large percentage of the lawsuits in the US are not filed by the injured person. They are filed by the injured person’s health insurer. Every health insurance policy, in fact, every insurance policy, has a subrogation clause. That clause allows the insurance company to file a lawsuit using your name to recover any funds from someone who may be liable for your injuries.

A rider, you best friend, is riding in your group rides. An accident occurs, and your friend is injured and spends a week in the hospital. Your friend’s health insurance policy looks at the facts and determines that your store was liable for the friend’s injuries and sues you. Your friend can do nothing to stop that lawsuit, unless he refuses the benefits under the policy and repays all the money the insurance company spent on his injury.

Not only is your shop at risk but so is your friendship.

The second big way this theory is destroyed is the surviving spouse. Facing life with no husband, no breadwinner with several kids a surviving spouse with no interest in cycling, and who saw your cycling shop as a money pit, might not have any qualms suing you.

The final issue is it might be money. If a customer becomes a quadriplegic or paraplegic, the cost of living is beyond anyone’s ability. Medical bills usually pass $5M, and future medical bills are usually more. Consequently, just living may force a cyclist now in a wheel chair or worse, to sue.


“We do organize, collaborate on or host various endurance races, and for these we run the liability through a statewide organization that has a series of free events. These free races require a signed waiver to participate, and between that and the no-cash organization that keeps the series going…”

Just like the professional rider mentioned above the other party’s actions are not enough. The statewide organization should list the store as an additional insured on its policy and place the stores name on the release.

So Now What?

Events are a great way to get a retail stores name in front of the public and promote good will. They can be done with a minimum of money and mostly a lot of effort. The liability issues can be handled just as easily.

1)   Make sure your general liability coverage on your policy covers the events you want to have. The policy should cover events and activities away from the store, in the parking lot and in the store. If you have doubts contact your broker and get an email or letter saying you have coverage for the event or activity.

2)   Have a release created by an attorney to cover all the events you have that protects the store, the employees and officers of the store and anyone else that could be sued because of the event.

a)   If the release is being provided by a third party, someone else, make sure your store and your employees are covered by their release. Your store must have its name on the release.*

b)   At the same time, don’t have two releases. Several lawsuits have occurred where the plaintiff signed two releases and one or both releases were thrown out.  

3)   Make sure that anyone else that is part of the event and has insurance lists your store as an additional insured. Fights between insurance companies over whose insurance covers an accident can take longer and cost more than the original accident.

4)   Dependent upon the type of event and who is putting it on, you may want an indemnification agreement from the party organizing the event. An example would be a cyclist jumping over your store on a mountain bike. You are getting some PR from the event, but the liability far exceeds the PR value in some cases. The Organizer is making money and should be able to indemnify you if the rider is caught by a gust a wind and lands on spectators, someone’s car or the wrong building.


* Retailers forget that a release collects information. You can use the release to collect names and contact info for future marketing or promotions. Include in the release language that they give you the right to contact them.


Additional articles you may find helpful:

Protecting Your Bike Shop and Yourself When Hosting Events      

Insurance 101                                    

RELEASE (Waiver) CHECKLIST              

Release/Waivers: The basics, the very basics!

States that do not Support the Use of a Release


Scott Chapin of Marsh & McLennan Agency who specializes in cycling insurance issues runs a blog about these issues:


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A group ride by its very nature does not make the leader liable

And just because I lawyer writing in a bicycle magazine says it does, does not change the law.

The article Be a Fearless Leader gives the impression that being a group leader in a ride and offering advice or sprinting at the end is enough to create liability for the leader. IT’S NOT!

To be liable, you must be negligent. Negligence has four components. All four components must be proven for someone to be negligent. Those components or steps are:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach of the Duty
  3. Injury proximately caused by the breach of duty
  4. Damages

Step one is the major stumbling block in a situation like this. What duty does a group ride leader owe to anyone else in the group ride? If everyone is riding voluntarily, then there is no duty unless you create a duty.

To create a duty you must create reliance or a need in someone that you then must fulfill or not ignore. By that I mean in a group ride situation you must say to the other riders either something that makes them think that you are responsible for them. You must say that the ride is safe or something that takes away their ability to be responsible for their own safety.

An example of the first situation would be having someone in the group say something like:

I’ve checked this route out, and I know it is absolutely safe. You can rely on me; this is a safe route. You will not get hurt on this ride.


There will be no cars on the course today.

First of all, who would say something that dumb and secondly, who would rely on that statement.

An example of the second situation would be:

You can only ride behind the group, and you must follow the group. You can’t leave until we get to the finish.


Run that red light.

In the first situation, you are saying to the people I am the leader, and you can rely upon me for your safety. In the second scenario, you are just being an idiot or a jerk.

The article goes even further. It mentions control and implies that if you pick the route or offer advice, you are in control. What ride doesn’t involve giving advice? What group of cyclists can get together and not start making comments and giving advice (a really boring group that’s who). For that matter what time would you have to get up to start getting a consensus form a group of cyclist on the route?  How would you prepare for a route unless someone picked it in advance?

Why would you go on a group ride if you did not think you could learn something and become a better rider? I would get better if I learned a new route, picked by somebody. If someone does not want to do that route today, say fine, ride whatever you want.

The article suggests to not make the ride competitive and to avoid pushing anyone’s limits. Yeah, I want to go out on a group ride and meander in at the end. The end is where it is at. The sprint. Why join a group ride if the ride is not going to push you? Besides why go if you are not going to push me?

The last statement is the icing on the cake. Have the rider’s sign a release written by an attorney. That’s not a group ride that is a competitive ride, a grand fondo or something that everyone pays to enter where they get a shirt. Not many Saturday morning rides hand out t-shirts at the end. Besides who can afford to hire an attorney to write a release just for a non-competitive get together with no leader?

Do Something

The author does not follow his own advice see 11 Ways To Get the Most Out of Your Group Ride where he states that putting the hammer down on a group ride is OK. The author writes great articles on how to sue people. That is how he makes a living, by suing people, drivers and bicycle manufactures. If you don’t want to be sued, get advice from someone who works in that area of the law, preventing lawsuits, not starting them.

The problem is the suggestions in the article on how to run a group ride either make it a “no ride” because no one is going to show up or because you did everything (like getting a release) which makes you a leader and POSSIBLY liable.

Lawsuits get started because you are stupid, mean or nasty 99% of the time. Be nice and you won’t have to worry about the lawsuits. For the other 1% of the time make sure your homeowner’s insurance and/or automobile policy will cover these situations.

Let everyone know that a group ride is fun, hard, people will get dropped, and you are on your own. You can ride or not ride and you dare anyone to try to kick your butt at the end.

Races and big rides where you pay money get sued because they make promises which they fail to keep. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep or that you don’t want to have the world know about. Don’t run your group ride like a race or tell everyone how the ride is going to be done to get a jersey at the end and you’ll be OK.

I have a better idea. Have everyone in your group ride read that article. Anyone who says they like it, agree with it or think it’s right, tell them to go ride with the author because they can’t ride with you. Have everyone else read this article and make sure they understand it.

To read more articles on cycling litigation see:

Connecticut court works hard to void a release for a cycling event

New York Decision explains the doctrine of Primary Assumption of the Risk for cycling.

Release for training ride at Triathlon training camp stops lawsuit

How to fight a Bicycle Product Liability case in New York. One step at a time.

Good Release stops lawsuit against Michigan bicycle renter based on marginal acts of bicycle renter

PA court upholds release in bicycle race.

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