Cities See Spike in Personal Injury Cases Due to the Dangers of Street-side Dining

personal injuries from outdoor dining

Part of being an injury attorney is perceiving dangers others often don’t. My friends and family have become accustomed to my remarking on the discrete yet all too real dangers lurking just around the corner in every day life. Therefore, I surprised no one when I began to point out the hazards I saw accompanying New York City’s new outdoor dining protocols since the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a disclaimer, I’d like to place on the record that I love al fresco dining. The City’s foot traffic, architecture and sounds make for an ambiance that no restaurant interior can capture. However, even before parking lanes were transformed into dining spaces, I have worried about the danger of getting struck by a bike or e-bike while crossing a bike lane—particularly here on the Upper West Side—on Columbus or Amsterdam Avenues—where despite the one-way design, bikes and e-bikes so often come from either direction (not to mention all of the speeding vehicular traffic that is present on these streets and others). 

The danger is apparent: what would have been merely a sideswipe collision with a parked vehicle pre-Covid can now result in a vehicle plowing into restaurant's street-side dining area.

Indeed, just last month I was retained to represent someone who was injured when an out-of-control vehicle ran a red light, struck another vehicle and careened into an outdoor dining area on the Upper East Side. Though I knew I’d see an influx of cases like this since the rise in street-side dining, I did not anticipate it to occur so soon—or so violently.

Since then, I noticed some restaurants taking extra precautions to keep their patrons and employees safe. Some of the measures I’ve seen include: warning signage reminding customers and servers to beware of oncoming bike traffic and to look both ways before crossing bike lanes; flashing lights warning bikers and pedestrians of the presence of outdoor dining; and reflective tape/signage on the sides of outdoor seating areas placed on the street-side to help increase visibility and warn drivers their presence—especially after dark.

I understand that restaurant owners have been burdened by Covid-19—perhaps more than most other businesses in the city. But restaurant owners should remain mindful of the safety of their employees, patrons and bikers by taking simple and easy measures to improve visibility and safety. Indeed, this may be the most prudent path forward in limiting restaurant’s liability in the event there were to be a bicycle/vehicle collision involving an employee or a patron. Even with limited return of indoor, reduced restaurant capacity means we are likely to see street-side dining for quite some time. The City has already announced plans to bring the program back next year. And while I enjoy al fresco dining and hope this remains a NYC fixture, I hope that restaurant owners, pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists will all exercise caution and respect each other’s space in our already crowded city.