Representatives of the Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) and some bicyclist advocacy groups met recently in Des Moines to discuss the future of the RAGBRAI event in light of the $300,000 settlement paid by Crawford County to the family of Kirk Ullrich who died as the result of a bicycle crash while participating in the 2004 RAGBRAI.
RAGBRAI is an event that provides a public relations boost for the state and revenue for communities along the route.
However, county officials are understandably worried that the precedent set by the Crawford County settlement will increase liability exposure. Some county officials have even considered following Crawford County's lead by declaring that RAGBRAI is not welcome to come through the county.
It is unfortunate that this annual event is threatened by the lawsuit. ISAC is urging counties to lobby state legislators to provide protection from lawsuits but the legislature does not have authority over the judicial system and there is little that the state can do to mitigate the impact of such lawsuits other than underwriting insurance on behalf of the counties.
An action that might have an impact is that RAGBRAI will improve the waiver form that RAGBRAI participants sign to include counties as exempt from liability for any injury occurring on RAGBRAI. Ullrich had signed such a waiver but it only provided protection to the RAGBRAI and its parent organization the Des Moines Register.
However, most riders are not even registered RAGBRAI participants and sign no such waiver. RAGBRAI has no authority to prevent bicyclists from using the same roads at the same time as RAGBRAI uses the roads.
We can only hope that this one incident from 36 years of RABRAI does not end an event that has become world famous.