Citibike has spread like wild fire from Manhattan to parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The growth of Citibikes poses some interesting accident and lawsuit issues.

Citibike is a bike sharing business which has been granted an exclusive franchise from the City to erect bike rental stations throughout New York City roadways and sidewalks. Although Citibike is a word play of Citibank, and the logo and colors have Citibank’s distinctive mark, Citibank’s involvement is solely as a name sponsor, similar to its naming of Citi Field in Queens.

Citibike is owned and operated by NYC Bike Share, LLC, which is a subsidiary of Motivate, a company that runs similar bicycle share programs in Washington, DC, Chicago, and Seattle.

Citibike has come under criticism for renting bikes without helmets. Citibike’s response has been that it is impractical to rent helmets in an automated setting and that the rider has the responsibility of securing a helmet.

Here are some frequently questions:

Q: Is Citibank liable for an injury caused by a Citibike?

A: I would say no. Citibank is merely a “name sponsor” in order to get advertising and positive public relations. Citibank is not involved in the bike rentals. Citibank merely bought the naming rights. Citibank would be no more liable for a bike accident than it would be for a stray ball hitting someone in the stands at Citi Field.

Q: Would New York City be liable for an accident caused by the negligent operation of a Citibike?

A: No. The City merely has granted an exclusive franchise to Citibikes. The City neither operates nor owns the business. In this connection, if the City were to be sued, Citibike’s insurance should cover the City as an additional insured. It is likely that the City would obtain dismissal from the case.

Q: Who would be liable for an accident caused by a defective bike?

A: Citibike as owner and operator of the bike rental would be liable. Citibike would have the responsibility of inspection, repair, and maintenance. E.g., if a bicycle wheel fell off and caused the rider to fall or injure another, Citibike could be liable if it could be proven that Citibike failed in either inspection, repair, or maintenance.

Q: Would Citibike be liable for failing to provide helmets?

A: This is an interesting question. On the one hand, the bike docking stations state that the renter should wear a helmet. If a renter were to get injured, then Citibike could claim that it was the renter’s obligation to get a helmet. On the other hand, the renter would claim that Citibike did not offer helmets but should have and that it should be liable for failing to make the available.

Q: Would Citibike be held liable for a renter’s negligent operation of a bike?

A: On this score, I would say no. The law does not create vicarious liability against the owner for the negligence of operator. In comparison, the law imposes vicarious liability in motor vehicles so that the owner is deemed liable for the negligence of the driver. For example, if I were to lend to you my automobile, and if you were to wrongly strike a pedestrian, the pedestrian could sue me as the owner of the motor vehicle. However, in a biking accident, the injured pedestrian can not sue me, the owner of the bicycle.

Q: Does Citibike provide medical or lost income insurance where a rider is injured?

A: No. In the case where a rider loses control, there is no insurance. In the situation where there is a collision between the Citibike and a motor vehicle, the motor vehicle’s insurance will provide medical and lost income to the injured bicyclist under the motorist’s Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) or No Fault. See the related article on following page.

Q: Is there any obligation for the Citibike renter to carry insurance to protect himself or the public?

A: No. If the renter has insurance covering his home and personal activities, such as homeowners’ or condo or renters’ insurance, then this insurance will protect the renter if the renter is sued in the lawsuit. As for medical and lost income, the bicyclist would not be covered by Citibike, and the biker would have to look to his own medical and disability policies.