Strava Face Lawsuit After Rider Death

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

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William “Kim” Flint was a 41-year-old electrical engineer who died in a cycling accident in the summer of 2010. It appears he was descending a road in the Oakland Hills in California, braked hard and lost control and the crash proved fatal. It’s a sad story by itself but the difference here is that Flint’s family are now suing Strava for negligence.

As a reminder, Strava is a California business with a website where users can upload data from their rides captured by GPS devices, whether a bike computer or even a phone. As well as the route, the distance and the speed, what seems to have made Strava such a runaway success is the creation of “segments”. These are sections of road, for example a recognised climb, where riders can compare their times to those posted by other cyclists. For example there is the most frequently-used climb in the Tour de France, the Col du Tourmalet. But the beauty is that users don’t need to visit lavish locations, instead they can define any section of road from a flat road to a descent and the fastest time posted by a user gives them a “King of the Mountain” title. Even if it’s a canal bridge.

There’s a saying that one rider makes a ride and two makes a race but with Strava it seems that even solo rides can succumb to the competitive urge as users can log their rides to compare it with others. Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle on William Flint’s accident, with Susan Kang, the attorney for the Flint family saying:

Kang says Flint was “obsessed” with the bike-times website maintained by Strava Inc., the company being named in the lawsuit. He had learned the night before he died that someone using the site had beaten his record “King of the Mountain” time on the same hill

Before you leap to comment on the chances of the lawsuit, ask yourself how well you know California law. I don’t know the law at all so will wait to see how this is tested in court because the subject of negligence is a tricky one. I suspect the case will depend on whether Strava is merely a platform to host data logged by riders or whether it actively encourages people into faster riding. Above all there’s plenty for lawyers to dispute, it’ll also depend on the small print terms and conditions involved when Flint signed up. Today the lawyers have put a lot of text into the sign-up process.

Old challenge, new platform?
Comparing times is not new, for years many riders would test themselves on a well-known climb. For example pros and amateurs alike timed their ascension on the Col de la Madone, it was such a part of Lance Armstrong’s preparation that the climb gave its name to a range of Trek bikes. In the 1950s Fausto Coppi set a record time up Alpe d’Huez. For years cyclists have been able to buy special postcards at the foot of Mont Ventoux and get them timestamped at top to record their time.

Strava’s technology seems a modern version of all of this. It offers a chance to time any piece of road giving the user the choice rather than relying on a famous climb or a French tourist office. I suspect most cyclists don’t see the trouble with this service but imagine if this was sold to motorbikers and you might see the problem. Non-cyclists might be concerned about cyclists “racing” on the roads. Certainly the use of downhill “King of the Mountains” has its risks. Going uphill limits the risks because it is hard to overcook a hairpin bend and cyclists can rarely break the speed limit but obviously it’s another matter during a descent when you could exceed the speed limit without pedalling and be tempted to use the full width of the road. But Strava have responded and users can flag any risky roads.

Conclusion
By its nature cycling is done on public roads and trails and so any route can become a sports venue. Cyclists have long timed themselves on sections of road, drafted trucks and buses for high speed thrills or finished a group ride with a sprint for bragging rights. But Strava has enabled solo riders to compete on a virtual basis. Is the company to blame, is technology at fault or the user?

With or without a GPS device accidents happen but the lawsuit in California will test Strava, it seems like a well funded start up but a ruling against it could be very costly for a small business. It’s tragic that one rider has died in an accident but this is a case that many cyclists around the world will be watching.

In memoriam Kim Flint

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{ 112 comments }

Ross Hallard June 19, 2012 at 11:24 am

Strava only creates uphill segments, right? Any downhill KOM’s are created by users. Will this have any bearing, I wonder?

Mark June 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Users create ALL segments. Uphill segments have long been more popular so many have already been created.

Jon MacKinnon June 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm

When you ride a categorised climb which hasn’t been ridden by anyone else on the site before, Strava automatically creates the segment for you.

Ross Hallard June 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Yes, Jon, that’s right. I’ve ridden up several “virgin” climbs and Strava’s algorithms recognised the ascents were noteworthy and created segments automatically. I’ve never this happen with a downhill though…

Alex June 21, 2012 at 5:15 pm

+1 – it auto creates for climbs not descents

muellermanfred June 19, 2012 at 11:32 am

Sad for Kim Flint.

But what happened to the good advice that one should know his limits? I recall some crashes I had in the past and some of them were caused by wrong decisions and estimations I made, not others.

We all know situations where we can blame others on the road, mostly cardrivers, for causing risks. But is a personal record attempt something other people can force me to try?

Guy June 19, 2012 at 11:34 am

Most bike and component manufacturers use speed in their advertising strategies. Are they responsible for crashes (barring equipment failure)? Of course not. I hope the Flint family have not been encouraged/cajoled into such action by some ‘no-win-no-fee’ vulture firm.

A New Bike June 19, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Speed is definitely one of the biggest selling points of road bike components, but the images that accompany the products are almost always hill climbs, not impossibly steep descents where the parts lose their value.

brew June 19, 2012 at 11:36 am

I’m not sure when it was introduced, but Strava now has a feature where users can flag segments as dangerous, e.g. crossing intersections etc., and rankings against other riders are removed.

brew June 19, 2012 at 11:38 am

Ah – I’m an idiot. You mentioned this already in your piece.

Alex June 19, 2012 at 11:43 am

This will be an interesting test case. Hopefully sense will prevail (although sense should have prevailed in order to avoid this accident in the first place).

I did think it a bit ott (but also quite fun and motivational) when I first received a “Uh oh! You just lost your KOM on XXX to XXX by XX seconds. Better get out there and show them who’s boss!”

Motivation is good (that’s why I use Strava), but I guess egging someone on to race faster than a time that might already be illegal, could be a grey area.

Mostly, I keep my descents local, so that I don’t worry too much if there’s an obstruction, but I do admit to being frustrated if I there’s a once-in-a-while chance spoiled. I need to get a grip lol.

AK June 19, 2012 at 11:46 am

I know the road where this happened quite well, it’s in a regional park. It has a few bends at the top, and then a long straight 12% section where you can fly. I hit 80 kmh there on a knobby-tire mountain bike. The bends are not hairpins but just sharp enough you can’t see what is behind from far out. For a few months a year the road is closed to cars, but even then park rangers do sometimes drive there, and people let their dogs run loose on the road so it’s actually more tricky then. This guy knew the road and so he knew the risks, it’s pointless to blame Strava for his death. But law and common sense do not always overlap completely.

Boy_Howdy June 22, 2012 at 12:41 am

You forgot to mention how there are numerous trail heads, trail crossings, and turn-offs/parking areas for picnic spots along the way, which make for a very treacherous descent. Anyone on a bike who goes screaming down that road is clearly not thinking clearly of the consequences, or how long it takes to stop on skinny tires. Damn foolish.

Mendip5000 June 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

I have only been KOM briefly (and no I didn’t set it up) on a very remote MTB section; I was emailed by Strava as follows:

Uh oh! Andy Rich just stole your KOM!

Hey Mendip,
You just lost your KOM on Very Remote Hill Climb to Faster Bloke by 4 minutes 20 seconds.
Better get out there and show them who’s boss!
-Your friends at Strava

I wonder what the California Lawyers will make of that wording?

Mendip5000 June 19, 2012 at 11:49 am

To slow again see!

The Tashkent Error June 19, 2012 at 11:59 am

This notification was implemented only a few weeks ago, it wasn’t present in 2010.

Ablindeye June 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm

That’s interesting. Possibly to soon be withdrawn given this…

Ablindeye June 19, 2012 at 11:54 am

Hopefully common sense will prevail but my very limited knowledge of American law suggests this may not be so. I would say we have a personal responsibility to keep ourselves and others safe no matter what we are doing in life and no matter what we have read, listened to or watched. This is a tradgic accident. Accident being the operative word.

As for Strava I have only recently discovered it. For someone like me, who only has the time to get out solo once a week or so, it’s great fun. I’m a total amateur, riding a hybrid and without a gps but I can still find routes and climbs locally and even measure my performace against others. Also my nearest climb (a cat 4 bump from the 2007 Tour no less :D), in stark contrast to everyting else, actually has a time currently within my reach.

AJ June 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Only in America…

But seriously, the litigation culture we live in where there is always somebody to blame is depressing.

If the family fail to get compensation from Strava maybe they’ll sue the bike manufacturer for creating a bike capable of those speeds? Or the bike shop who sold the bike?

Matt June 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm

“where there is always somebody *else* to blame”

ddraver June 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm

What the flip is wrong with Americans and their legal system? :(

Sorry, but all the non-americans are thinking it!

cd June 19, 2012 at 3:16 pm

The Americana are thinking it too.

I use Strava. I notice some downhill KOM’s and always thought they were stupid to have. As were the KOM’s for city blocks that require one to go through lights and fight cars. My first thoughts on these were what idiots would race these.

Mark June 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I’ve made downhill segments because before Strava I would check my average descending speed on favorite descents using the “custom splits” capability in SportTracks software. Making those segments on Strava saves me the trouble of having to make custom splits each time I ride the same course in SportTracks. It also gives me a sense of where I am in my descending abilities vis-a-vis others in my area. I go downhill as fast as I safely can because it’s fun. Not because I’m “racing.” Comparisons to others are also fun. Strava doesn’t make me try to descend faster nor climb faster. It’s my choice.

David Henderson June 20, 2012 at 6:58 pm

“Strava doesn’t make me try to descend faster nor climb faster. It’s my choice”.

Certainly you could momentarily consider the idea that Strava actually does “encourage you to descend faster and climb faster?” Perhaps not.

Now picture a giant, pink, elephant with long smooth ivory tusks and it’s huge ears flapping so as to cool it’s massive body.

Did you choose that image in your head or did I? No you did not choose it, I did for you. Free will is an illusion. We can do what we choose, but we can not choose what we will choose. As such was the case for William Flint.

Robert June 25, 2012 at 3:40 am

Dear David, with all respect, your pink elephant example to support the lawsuit against Strava is moronic. It would free mankind of any personal responsibility, and it would reduce any defense to ‘it wasn’t my fault, he told me to do it’.

And by just stating the above, I’ve proven that very point. Although, I admit, you were able to plant an image in my head and ‘encouraged’ me to see the case from your viewpoint, being a human being I was able to step back, think, analyze and then ultimately and totally reject it on the basis of common sense. A bit like what I would do when I read/learned/saw that another cyclist went down a tricky hill with 80km/hr.

(Note: I write this with utmost respect to the deceased cyclist and his family. I simply argue that everybody has a personal responsibility, and unfortunately this cyclist misjudged. I don’t think it is right to hold Strava responsible for his death).

Anonymous July 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Robert you said, “It would free mankind of any personal responsibility, and it would reduce any defense to ‘it wasn’t my fault, he told me to do it’.”

I disagree. Take this case: hasn’t Mr. Flint been held accountable already?

I believe, as did Einstein, that all things are determined in a cause effect manner.

In this case Strava is in the process of being held accountable for encouraging wreckless, dangerous and illegal behavior that lead to a death. That’s not debatable.

Cause and effect: we are commenting and reading this because of a string of events that include Strava’s policy and design to publish and promote speed records that are in blatant violation of current speed limit laws, and further… they remind a person when their record has been broken so as to encourage further such behavior.

Cause and effect: this lawsuit is going to cause Strava to change how it conducts it’s business.

David Henderson July 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Robert you said, “It would free mankind of any personal responsibility, and it would reduce any defense to ‘it wasn’t my fault, he told me to do it’.”

I disagree. Take this case: hasn’t Mr. Flint been held accountable already?

I believe, as did Einstein, that all things are determined in a cause effect manner.

In this case Strava is in the process of being held accountable for encouraging wreckless, dangerous and illegal behavior that lead to a death. That’s not debatable.

Cause and effect: we are commenting and reading this because of a string of events that include Strava’s policy and design to publish and promote speed records that are in blatant violation of current speed limit laws, and further… they remind a person when their record has been broken so as to encourage further such behavior.

Cause and effect: this lawsuit is going to cause Strava to change how it conducts it’s business.

cd June 19, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Sorry, Americans not americana

grolby June 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm

The structure of the American legal and court system leaves restitution for injured parties largely to civil courts. I don’t know exactly how it’s different, but my understanding is that law and precedent surrounding non-criminal negligence is very different in European countries compared to the U.S. You would have to check with an expert, but there’s nothing “wrong” with Americans. We have lots of litigation because the way our system is designed leads to lots of litigation.

Pave June 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Uh, ddraver, of course Americans are thinking this too. We’re the ones getting sued by each other. And, as a bit of education, you might be interested to know that given how large the US is and how it’s divided into 50 states and a few protectorates, the legal system is somewhat different in different places. This lawsuit probably wouldn’t ever be allowed in some states, so despite how faulty the US legal system is, this is more a product of California’s legal system.

ash June 24, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Exactly! What happened to people are responsible for their own action? Suing someone else for you own stupidity and moronic behaviour? wtf!

emfsh June 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I don’t know what’s wrong with the American legal system. Why don’t you ask the British. That’s where American negligence law comes from…

Al June 19, 2012 at 8:23 pm

“Why don’t you ask the British. That’s where American negligence law comes from…”

Like saying sue the bike shop. That’s where the bike came from …

JG June 20, 2012 at 3:03 am

I would sue the parents, for raising a dumb one who needed penis measurement contest till he dies.

Guadzilla June 20, 2012 at 6:15 am

Not really

Tristan C June 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm

While I feel deeply and sincerely for the Flint family, I hope Californian law backs Strava on this one. As has been mentioned, speed is advertised by companies of all sporting products, and it’s up to the user of said products to determine their abilities whilst using them – I can’t help but feel Kim Flint didn’t weigh up the risk vs. reward option carefully enough before he took on the descent, especially having been the quickest on the segment previously. Though the wording of Strava’s emails will most definitely be of serious debate and i’m sure it will be changed immediately (if it hasn’t been already), suing a company for a miscalculated accident (again, it’s already been said, this was an accident) on a users behalf seems (to me) to be a callous retort to a tragic mishap. I would even go so far as to say Kim enjoyed using Strava and would not be overly thrilled at its potential dismantling over an incident like this.

Again, my deepest condolences to the family.

Ian Wright June 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm

This is ridiculous beyond measure and shows the insanity within people that do not even think of self responsibility anymore. It is ALWAYS someone else’s fault it seems.
However, I do not agree with Downhill segments even though I seem to be KoM on many of the Pyrenees descents (including the Tourmalet mentioned above) but this was intentional and as someone mentioned, these are created by riders and NOT strava. If people choose to race downhill then it is there choice, they should factor in the risks i.e. crashing at 90kph could be fatal.
Strava is an excellant tool – it is up to the user to use it responsibly.

Mark Rushton June 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm

i don’t use Strava but if I was to hold on to a motorbike I’m presuming that the time ‘set’ by me would still be recorded but at motorbike speed so how do users know that the Strava time is accurate and what does it matter? What happened to just riding a bike instead of busting your nuts over a time. Someone will always be faster or slower.

Ablindeye June 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Indeed you don’t know it’s accurate and short of holding on to a motorbike you could also do simple things like start a climb at the back of a group ride and finish it at the head etc etc. It’s just a bit of fun and should be taken as such.

Ian Wright June 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Again, taking responsability. If you want to cheat then you just cheat yourself. And yes, riding for fun is also good, but riding for time is the essence of bike racing. Strava is just a logging tool for those of us who can’t race within a group all the time – its all fun.

rhys June 20, 2012 at 12:05 am

Spot on. I also like the challenges they have, where it encourages you to ride more, not just quickly. It’s a great tool and I worry about the trickle-down effects of this lawsuit.

@tourpro June 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm

User have the ability to flag suspicious results, so cheating is minimized. There are still ways to game the system – sniping segments (driving to the start and riding it fresh), etc.

I’ve only recently started using Strava, and it has become a great training tool. Previously, I could measure my regular rides base on overall time and average speed, but now I can have very granular data about “favorite” sections. It’s also great to compare performance with other local cyclists and find new roads to ride.

Mat G June 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm

If Strava are successfully sued for negligence for one individuals accident surely that would open them up for lawsuits from every Dick and Harry that uses Strava and has had an accident. Can of worms

jj June 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Maybe this is a learning lesson for all. I understand the nature of obsession and how it gets intertwined with training, and of course the ultimate responsibility lies with oneself. It also seems Strava is clearly playing on this notion with their new ‘show em who’s boss’ motivators and they need to back off a little. I don’t see them as a clear innocent, or that they’d thought this through all that well. I wonder if the technology allows them to block the downhill gradients from being set since these seem to be where the danger lies.

Benny June 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I wonder if Strava can prove whether he was logged on at the time of accident? And if he was where his times till the crash evident of trying to break records. I use Strava on my phone so presume Strava ‘knows’ when I start a ride, not sure how it works through Garmins etc. And not every Strava ride I do is flat out, he may have been on a recovery ride and just cruising along to a degree.

Either way I hope Strava doesnt lose the case, with all respect to Kim Flint, it would be a shame for this sort of thing to be shut down due to users pushing past the limit of their abilities for the sake of a virtual KOM

@tourpro June 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm

His accident was recorded and he was exceeding the legally posted speed limit.

Guy McK June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

It’s not just about downhill though is it!?

What happens when somebody has a coronary chasing a climb segment.

Alex June 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I’ve felt like that tbh, but then I would in a race too. At least the danger is only to me.

Touriste-Routier June 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Sad story, but to me, the interesting things in the SFC article are:

1) The “victim” was 41 years old, a legal adult, and his parents are suing. OK, this happens frequently in wrongful death cases. but consider:

2) The plaintiff’s attorney cites that the “victim” was , “obsessed” with the bike-times website maintained by Strava Inc”, even citing a tweet he posted.

Unfortunately, we don’t know the entire story, but from the SFC article we can surmise: we have a website that maintains (not necessarily creates) segments, a legal adult, capable of making educated decisions, an obsessed personality (at least in this regard), performing a solo activity that is often regarded as potentially hazardous/dangerous, on open roads, objectively trying to beat a time, all in the name of ego/pride (as there are no prizes or external incentives).

I don’t know the particular area, but others have commented on speeds achieved there. What is the speed limit? Was the “victim” in violation of posted speed limits, and was he riding in a hazardous or negligent manner? Did he have a racing license or enter events (if so, I am sure he signed plenty of documents which cite the nature of cycling)? I suppose these may all be part of Strava’s defense strategy. Unfortunately they are also dealing with California law and courts.

AK June 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

The speed limit on South Park Drive is 30 mph. You can safely assume that someone trying to set a record was going faster than that. Also, from what I read about it at the time of the accident he was cutting into the opposite lane in one of the bends and lost control when trying to avoid an oncoming car. If that is true i’d count it as riding in a hazardous manner. It’s in a park, there’s trees, it’s hard to see what’s coming around the corner.

mB June 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Even if one doesn’t know California’s laws, it is obvious that the law suit culture in the USA has gone completely mad.
And, it is a very very sad state of the affairs.
It is the product of a deeply individualistic society which, paradoxically, while advocating for individual rights instead of the common good, refuses to take responsability for one’s own actions, always trying to blame someone else for one’s actions.
Very very very sad place.

grolby June 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm

No, the amount of litigation is product of a legal system that, as designed and implemented, leads to lots of litigation. It has nothing to do with moral failure. This probably isn’t a great example, anyway – I doubt that most suits are over wrongful death. And the possibility certainly exists that Strava is in fact liable. I suspect that they aren’t, but there’s nothing immoral about holding a corporation liable and being awarded damages if they are found to be. This is a tragedy, and if Strava has some legal responsibility, that’s the fact of the matter. Money doesn’t bring Mr. Flint back, but the willingness of people to trash a grieving family bothers me.

Selfishly, I hope Strava isn’t liable, as I don’t want the service to go away or change much, but that’s not up to me. Just, cripes people, have some damn compassion.

Derailed June 20, 2012 at 12:28 am

I feel very sad for the poor guy. He’s been cut down in the prime of life and his family and friends have suffered a huge loss. However, it was an accident, and I think its appalling that his family is pursuing Strava for negligence. The guy was a responsible adult, by accounts, and it appears he was descending a steep hill at speed on a lightweight roadbike and crashed. Maybe it wasn’t his fault that he crashed. There may have been a car, or another bike, or a walker involved. Who knows. But it definitely wasn’t the fault of Strava. I agree that Strava shouldn’t be encouraging cyclists to go faster but road cycling is a risky past time, so for the sake of sanity, I hope this case gets thrown out.

David June 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I joined Strava at the weekend and one of the first things I looked at was the nearest “segments” to my house. I have to admit – I was very surprised to see downhill timed sections – there is one near me that is a single track road with blind corners – I did think to myself at the time that you would be completely stupid to try and “race” that…

That said – I think the uphill timed sections are a great motivator but common sense must prevail.
Feel for the cyclist’s family but will be sad if this functionality is taken away.

ShaunG June 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I am no expert on California law but if Nutella settled for 3M on the statements “that it is part of a healthy breakfast”, or “helps a busy mom to get kids to eat whole grains”. Never did the ad say Nutella was heath food it just stated it can be part of a healthy breakfast. Nutella was just making kids fat (and happy).

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/04/26/151454929/nutella-maker-may-settle-deceptive-ad-lawsuit-for-3-million

Strava lawsuit does not look so good.

phazey June 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm

This is very interesting… I do feel horrible for the cyclist’s family, but I hope that the case is decided in Strava’s favor.

Perhaps the messaging when a KOM is taken away is a little incendiary, and perhaps this encouragement should not be used… but many of the mapping sites (mapmyride, ride with gps…) have leaderboards or challenges for individual sections/courses. These can be excellent tools with which to gauge improvements (on ascents, descents and general routes). My biggest fear is that this could create a precedent declaring many of these tools unsafe.

What is next? If a mountain biker has a horrible crash do we sue the company/website that posted the trail map?

rhys June 20, 2012 at 12:12 am

The notifications of your KOM being lost is a check-box, you can turn it off or on.
People like me need downhill segments, as I’ll never get an uphill one. They don’t neutralize the descents in race stages. As has been stated previously, use your judgement. 41 years old? He should have known better. A shame to lose a life, moreso when it is easily preventable.

bM June 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm

fromVelo News: “Flint’s death is not the first to be tied to the cycling website. The San Francisco Examiner reported that cyclist Chris Bucchere has been charged with felony manslaughter in the death of pedestrian Sutchi Hui on March 29th of this year. According to prosecutors, Bucchere was tracking his speed using Strava at the time, and his on-bike GPS showed that he was moving more than 35 mph in a 25 mph zone.”

J-Lo June 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Was the segment actually a downhill segment? I can’t find much detailed information online. I would imagine the case would look different if he was just heading home from taking on an uphill segment, rather than trying to become the fastest on a downhill segment.

Though this article:
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/san_francisco&id=8706316
says that he was exceeding the posted speed limit by 10mph on the way down.

Boy_Howdy June 22, 2012 at 12:44 am

No, it’s a downhill segment and a very steep one at that.

As mentioned, during some part of the winter months that road is closed which may – MAY – make it safer to try your hand at it, but this road is littered with trail crossings and blind pull-outs from picnic spots on a winding, steep descent.

eurotodd June 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Unfortunatly this is (one of the many) things wrong with our great country. Frivolous lawsuites. We have a certain side of our political wing pushing “personal responsibility” but that seems to only apply to poor people as a way to deny them assistance and blame them for their own situation. The lawyers who go after things like this are usually linked to this particular “brand” of politics. So sad because if the family wins this ( which I hope they don’t) a majority of the money will go to the lawyers and “legal system”…

grolby June 19, 2012 at 4:49 pm

What’s frivolous about wrongful death? See above, I would be surprised if Strava is actually liable, though it is possible, but suggesting that a lawsuit involving a death is “frivolous” seems awfully cold to me.

Bud June 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Read Todd carefully. The “death” isn’t frivolous, frivolous lawsuits are. In legal parlance, a death is “wrongful” if it’s the product of someone’s negilgence. If Strava is found not responsible, there’s no wrongful death. The fine print inrng linked in the original post leads me to conclude that the case will be thrown out on a motion for summary judgment. So yes, even a lawsuit involving a death might correctly be deemed frivolous, but that speaks everything about the relative strength or wekness of the legal theory being advanced to support a recovery and nothing about the tragedy of the death itsef.

Andy June 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Oddly enough, there was an article in the latest issue of Singletrack mag about people using Strava less than responsibly to time downhill MTB segments. What is essentially unregulated DH racing on public trails/roads is going to lead to someone being killed or seriously injured other than the rider – this has huge potential to damage cycling.

Larry T. June 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I have a theory ab out this type of thing. I call it the a-hole factor though I’m sure some educated persons can document it with some statistical data and studies. I think whenever you double the number of people participating in an activity (pretty much any activity) the number of a-holes involved goes up not by a factor of 2, but by a factor of 10. Strava, if they do indeed send out notices to their clients that someone has “beaten” their time (don’t get me started on this phony “racing” for those without the cojones be actually pin on a number and RACE instead of playing around in fantasyland) has cranked up this a-hole factor to an insane level, as now everyone in the world can play, not just the wannabees at the local “Saturday Morning Worlds”. No surprise that some a-hole killed himself as a result. Does it matter whether he was going up or downhill? He could have croaked from a heart attack on a climb, would that change things? While everyone is responsible for their own welfare, encouraging this phony competition (if they actually do what’s been described here) shows more interest in making money than concern for their clients. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Ablindeye June 20, 2012 at 11:02 am

Re: “…this phoney racing for those without the cajones [to] actually pin on a number and race instead of playing around in fantasy land”

Firstly I am a veritable amateur but am sure that many who use Strava also race – Taylor Phinney probably being one of the most famous examples. Without even owning a GPS it’s primarily a local route and climb finder for me though having a comparison to others is also (just) a bit of fun. If I’m lucky I get an hour or 2 a week to ride – Strava sometimes makes that time that bit more enjoyable.

Clearly it’s not your cup of tea and that’s fine but the sweeping statements are a little over the top. As an example cycling holidays are not my thing but I can fully understand why many enjoy them -each to their own, live and let live. Please correct me if I’ve mis-understood or mis-interpreted your post though as it’s not unheard of :)

With regard to this particular incident we can only speculate as to most of the details. What is certain is that someone has lost their life and family and friends have lost a loved one. In the light of this branding the individual doesn’t seem particularly appropriate to me.

Larry T. June 20, 2012 at 7:11 pm

If you DO have the cojones to race, why bother with phony racing? It’s like the guys at the Saturday Morning World’s as I wrote…a fake competition where conditions are not equal. When you post the best time on one of these gizmos, who is to say you didn’t have a tailwind and cool temps while someone else rode the same route in a headwind on a hot day? Or cheated and put the thing in their car instead? In REAL races, all the conditions are the same for all the competitors and having the race shows who is the best on any given day – the start and finish are clearly noted, participants are entered properly and you win or lose…fair and square for everyone to see. Back in my moto daze we’d run into this type of moron all the time on Sunday morning rides – they crow about “beating” the local hot shoe up in the canyons on public roads…but when invited to bolt on the number plates, take out a racing license and do it for REAL at the local race track….these jerks had plenty of excuses. Strava seems little more than a computerized version of this no-risk-to-my-fragile-ego fantasyland. If you find it useful as a training aid, more power to you.

Ablindeye June 20, 2012 at 11:47 pm

So not a mis-interpretation on my part then…

In my experience partaking in the use of a website, racing a bike or even doing both are not overly reliable in predicting someone’s personality. Let’s agree to disagree and move on.

Mendip5000 June 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm

In our great country (UK) the website BikeHike was once the best place to map rides, due to the fact that it interfaced with Ordnance Survey maps.

The owner/designer of the site took away the facility to store rides online and then search other users rides, purely because he was concerned about being held responsible for this kind of thing or related issues like trespass (MTB tracks etc).

However unlikely it was for him to be held responsible for others actions, it was the cost of defence that was the concern.

Goods June 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Bikehike was great – a real shame when it ceased.

Alan June 20, 2012 at 11:23 am

Bikehike is very much still alive – just does not have that database of users routes anymore.

Ablindeye June 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Thank you for this info, just what I was looking for to map some rides and even get elevation data to boot :)

JayCee June 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Wether we use Strava or not (I don’t), a lot of us gun it on the downhills. It’s not the competition against anyone else that makes us do it, it’s the competition against ourselves. It’s the absolute buzz of coming off a corner on the perfect line, on the ragged edge of grip that makes us do it. It’s those few moments where we go a little over it and contemplate, in the calmest way possible, that this may well be it. To get through those moments is a high money can not buy. The risks of the downhill are what make it so great. No one should push the limits without clearly knowing and accepting the possible consequences and, in my experience, no one does. I don’t think any less of my riding buddies that I wait for at the bottom of the hill; they just don’t accept the risks and that is solely their choice.

When you slam it down the hill with a millimeter of lycra as sole protection, you inherently accept the risks. And that is freedom. No one should be able to take that away from us.

What we should definitely do, though, is talk about those risks with our loved ones. I’ve talked about this at length with my family and they know that, if worse comes to worst on the fast bits, it will have been through a decision I made on my own and that no one else should be held accountable. Obviously, this is a discussion Mr. Flint did not have and it is a normal part of the grieving process for his family to try and explain what happened. In Strava, they found a culprit. It is the least painful explanation for them at the moment. Those of us who do accept the risks of riding fast know that no website makes you go round a corner at full pelt or go deep in the red on the uphill. The fire in our belly is solely responsible for that. Not that that argument would hold up in court, of course.

On that note, my deepest condolences to the family and friends affected by this loss. May they heal their wounds and meet him again on the eternal downhill.

Andy June 19, 2012 at 4:35 pm

With respect, I don’t think the issue is the risk taken by adults. The issue is far more people riding irresponsibly on public roads/trails – it’s unlikely a rider will hurt anyone else overcooking it on a climb but the downs are another matter entirely.

In the England/Wales, there is currently ongoing dialogue about increasing trail access for MTBing. A rambler/horse rider (both of which are far more powerful lobbies) being taken out by someone trying to set a time on a downhill Strava segment can only do our case harm.

JayCee June 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Agreed. My comment touches only road downhills. I go for it on the DH bike only in trail centers as I share the trails as I want them shared with me.

AK June 19, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Well said, I couldn’t agree more.

Tarun June 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Firstly, condolences to the departed.

My reply is from a UX perspective:

There will always be externalities with every design. While the intent of this site is to promote physical activity via competition, competition in turn leads to sometimes dangerous behavior. This is clearly beyond the scope of an ideal situation, but sometimes it is the designer’s job to see the boundaries of what he/she creates. It is easy to create a solution that fits the ideal case. It is hard to think of the hundreds of other outcomes that could result from interacting with the software.

Sometimes that foresight is hard to come by. In this case, Strava acted quickly and added some warnings on some dangerous climbs or descents. However, small warnings aren’t likely to wane competition. I’d argue that any competitive platform is going to catalyze some form of behavior that is unsportsmanlike, or dangerous. It’s not only the nature of competition, but humans themselves. This is the real core understanding that Strava and others should understand before proceeding.

I believe that designs can be molded or shaped to do so, but part of a design is also the target user… Is the goal to get physically inactive people to exercise, or normal cyclists to the next level? Both have different needs and understanding of the sport, and both will appreciate different design cues accordingly. Strava seems to be marketing towards people who want that competitive edge… that surge beyond just the intrinsic appreciation of working out. The assumption (perhaps persona quality) is that people would be reasonably prepared for dangerous inherent in the sport. As such, Strava didn’t feel the need to really pursue the potential danger of the platform. If Strava had considered other use cases, perhaps they would have better understood amateur usage and adjusted the design for them (albeit potentially removing focus from the original intent).

Wayne June 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm

If he had a heart attack while climbing would the family still be sueing Strava?

ave June 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm

There’s a saying about talking about dead people. Good or nothing. So no comment on him.
His family lives, but I better not say anything about them either.

The Inner Ring June 19, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I agree. Let’s try not to judge him or his family too hard. He died in a ride and his family are grieving.

I wanted to cover this topic to explain the story. But I do think that whilst people might enjoy riding uphill in timed segments there is a worry sections of the media or even the police “discover” that thousands of cyclists are taking part in unregulated “races” and (over)react.

Oliver June 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm

To all who moan about litigation in the US, please take the following facts in to consideration. There is no public health care in america. If you are un-insured you are left in the cold with astronomical bills. If you are insured, you are left in the cold with massive medical bills. For many suing corporations is the only recourse to pay medical and hospital bills, even funeral arrangements — not to mention trying to compensate for lost wages if the deceased was being relied upon by a family.
The USA is a profoundly corrupt country which does virtually nothing in terms of legislation to protect its citizens: the executive and legislative branches are at the beck and call of the Chamber of commerce and at the service of large corporations who pay for the election of gvt officials and house reps. So the courts and the jury system are the only recourse when disaster strikes. So give this family a break and stop mindlessly repeating republican talking points!

Ryan June 19, 2012 at 11:53 pm

excellent point.

Tom June 20, 2012 at 9:15 am

Surely taking a case to court must cost a lot as well though?

Larry T. June 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Good point Oliver!

grolby June 21, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Thanks for more clearly explaining the point I was trying to make. An unexpected death or serious accident can really leave you up a creek, and there’s really no other recourse for many.

Matt Runge June 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

dumbest lawsuit ever?

Anonymous June 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

+1

Jim June 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Oliver, thank you for that comment. It is the fact of life in our country. If you ski, bike,hike and or step out of your front door, accept the risk, and hope your family understands why. It is amazing that we can even do a bike race or fondo let alone a club ride out of a bike shop because a waiver is meaningless.

Steve June 19, 2012 at 6:27 pm

// Inring’s question was, is technology at fault?

No, thankfully we will always have new technology changing our world and our sport. Technology allows us to go faster then before i.e. ceramic bearings, carbon fiber. While some keeps us safe, high impact plastic in helmets which replaced our old “hairnet” helmets of yesteryears.

Kim, because he was an adopter of the technology approved of that technology. Would he feel
if he were alive today a law suite was a good thing? I think not!

I believe Strava will have to change its product offering it will lose some of the challenging inflammatory verbiage which it sends its customers, as well lose the down hill racer function.

We must avoid litigating the public from using new technology which in the larger picture only provides a better life experience. I enjoy looking at my old steel Gios, but I prefer to ride my carbon fiber Bianchi.

anonymous June 19, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I see no basis for this under California law. I would suspect Strava would get this out immediately. There are several principles which should take care of this before it goes to far:
Comparative Negligence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_negligence)
Assumption of Risk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assumption_of_risk)
Waiver (just like those ones you have to fill out before any organized event). The current Strava Terms and Conditions (albeit these are dated June 13, 2012) contains language which should protect them (http://app.strava.com/terms#warranties_disclaimer)

________
DISCLAIMER: THIS POST IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT, NOR SHOULD IT BE INTERPRETED TO BE ANY LEGAL ADVISE WHATSOEVER.

ADH June 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I work in insurance and one claim we did not fight in the courts, as we knew we would lose, has some similarities. An individual had alcohol on a flight in the US. He then had more drinks on the ground, before driving his car. Tragically he killed himself and someone from another vehicle. The family of the second victim sued the airline for serving the the man alcohol on the plane.

Admittedly this was in a southern state where it was felt the judge was likely to rule against a big airline from the north. To most people this would appear a spurious claim, but does show the issues with US litigation.

Bongo June 19, 2012 at 10:21 pm

In the lawyer’s own words the man was “obsessed” with the times on Strava. His obsession, his decision, his responsibility period.

Playvelo June 19, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Your Chronicle (sfgate.com) link is incorrect now. This one should work now: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/baycitynews/a/2010/06/21/bike21.DTL

I live in the Bay Area. I’m also an active Strava user. News of Flint’s death was common topic of discussion in the weeks after his death. Most of the riders I ride with on weekends are active users of Strava as well. The idea that people would use it as way to race & measure their times on a downhill was a foreign & risky concept to the majority of us. Understand that the roads around here were not engineered or planned, they were created from old logging or farm trails. They are steep, with tight ramps and turns. Blind corners are the norm. There is a huge assumption of risk just riding on them let alone breaking the speed limit or racing on them.

Does anyone else follow Taylor Phinney on Strava? He posted a ride this past weekend where his top speed was over 70mph (112k) on a downhill segment. What happens when someone is hurt or killed trying to beat a Pro’s segment?

Btw, I only look at my climbing segments. I just need to get into the Top 25% by the end of summer. :)

desiertodelosleones June 20, 2012 at 12:41 am

Sad for Kim´s family but really…there has been an abdication of personal responsibility in the US for some years now and it seems to get worse. This has nothing to do with Strava – nothing broke or failed Kim. No one hit him. He knew what he was doing. Cyclists make their own decisions and are responsible for their own actions.

JimW June 20, 2012 at 3:28 am

I just recieved a “We have updated our terms and conditions email”
Interesting part.
“What’s changed? We’ve grown a lot and have expanded our products and services since our terms were last updated. The updated terms clarify things related to our mobile apps, as well as real-world races and events that you might participate in that use Strava’s site.”

GeeTee June 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

Very sad that a life is lost – one of our fellow cyclists. But sueing Strava ? If that fails, why not go after the guy that beat his KOD? On the warped logic of the lawsuit, it was him that triggered the behaviour – Strava was just the messenger.

Boni June 20, 2012 at 11:38 am
David June 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm

It occurred to me to ask the question – What happens with bike manufacturer’s?

If I buy a 7Kg aero road bike – I am going to fly downhill. If I crash with resulting injury – I would never think of taking the said bike maufacturer to court. (You made your bike too fast so I am suing you? / Your adverts made me believe that I could ride like a pro?). I don’t think the Strava model of providing a service to cyclists is any different from that business model of encouraging users to go faster on faster bikes, better components, aero wheels etc

Anonymous June 20, 2012 at 5:42 pm

If you buy a 70 kg n0n-aero road bike you will go even faster downhill

David June 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

True! I was making the point that we are encouraged to go faster by bike and component manufacturer’s…

Gingerflash June 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Just a few points from an English lawyer.

The American legal system is vastly different from the English one. I have no doubt whatsoever that a claim of this nature would fail in this country. The stronger argument is that cycling can be a dangerous sport and that every rider has a duty to look after himself on the public roads. This is a world away from a closed road race in which the organisers had failed to remove an obstacle, for example.

Where is the common sense? In the mind of the judge who would eventually hear the case. Before the case gets to court, that common sense test is in the minds of the lawyers, trying to predict what a judge would do. In America of course, a jury decides a civil claim, not a judge. How much common sense does a jury have? That’s a whole different debate but a huge number of jury verdicts are overturned or altered by judges on appeal.

As for “no win no fee”, that transfers the risk of the case to the lawyers. It means you only take on a case you believe you’re going to win, otherwise you don’t get paid. If a client comes to you with some crackpot case that has no hope, you just don’t take it on. In England, if you later lose, you’re also paying the Defendant’s costs, which makes you think twice before jumping in. In the USA, there’s no such risk. You can just give up on it and walk away at any time.

Finally, starting a claim is vastly different from winning a claim. The family might be hoping for a cheap settlement, based on the tiny chance that Strava might lose. The lawyers might be just using this as a publicity stunt (“look at the tough and innovative cases we take on!”) and the case will quietly be abandoned.

The case will have been started on the basis of what the family think and what the lawyers think. It is entirely possible that none of them are cyclists and know very little about how Strava works. They will discover this as the case progresses and this may lead them to abandon. In this country, you investigate a possible claim and gather all your evidence, THEN decide whether to start court proceedings. The strong cases are often settled before this ever becomes necessary. The weak cases are abandoned and only the most contentious cases, with good evidence on both sides, get to the courts.

In the USA, they start court proceedings practically on day one and then start looking into the evidence. This is the main reason why so many apparently crazy cases are started. Few of them ever get before a court.

Anyone in Enfgland or Wales should be reassured that we have a much more sesnsible system here.

Michal June 21, 2012 at 4:40 am

Hope common sense prevails and sincere condolences to the family. May we all come safe from our rides and still enjoy Strava too.

peloton.pl June 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm

interesting change of policy now: GPS tracker provider Strava has emailed all its users changing its Terms and Conditions to require them to undertake not to sue the company in connection with claims arising as a result of their “athletic activities.”

Short Bloke June 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Let me ask this. Is it sensible for an amateur to race downhill on the public highway? I think not. Is it sensible to encourage people to race downhill on the public highway? Also not.

Does it make you legally responsible for an accident if one happens? I have to say also probably not.

But in a country where, as a private individual, you stand very little chance of changing the behaviour of a company by getting a law passed, how else can you effect change other than by suing them? I feel for the family, and even as an Englishman, I can see they have very little option but to sue if they want to highlight what they see as a importnat issue, and prevent this happening to some one else. I have no idea if that is their motivation, but for the record, I do think Strava should not record downhill segment KOM’s. It’s just asking for something like this to happen.

Robert June 25, 2012 at 1:27 am

I think using common sense would be a good idea, and even then riding a bicycle will always have inherent risks one just has to accept, but that’s just my 2 cents.

Alternatively, we could sue all the riders in the Tour de France whose speed I have been trying to match all my life, resulting in numerous crashes.

Victor June 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

You don’t think Strava should record downhill segments? Hmmm. Interesting? So what do you think should happen when a totally obsessed fanatic cyclist dies of a heart attack going uphill? Because perhaps he was desperately trying to beat a Strava KOM record? What do you then think? Should Strava then stop recording uphill segments too?
I think you’re missing the point. Suing Strava is just yet another example in an endless list of ridiculous lawsuits plaguing the nation. I think perhaps it time we all join together and file a class action lawsuit against the American Bar Association. Since it’s the ABA who is responsible for law school accreditation, the ABA should be held liable for creating this insane environment wherein greedy (or starving) lawyers have the ability to file these kinds of awfully expensive nuisance lawsuits. Yes, it’s the ABA, with the help of their brethren lawyers in great positions of power (half of congress as well as the president of the United States are all lawyers) have created this “target rich” environment in America where lawyers can sue anybody anytime for any reason.

Robert June 25, 2012 at 1:22 am

So if the guy had been racing a, let’s say, slow driving Chevy Trailblazer instead of a virtual competitor, then they would have sued Chevrolet?

Short Bloke June 25, 2012 at 9:15 am

Oh come on, it would be easy to argue that Strava is actively encouraging people to race downhill. Segments are designed to promote competition, which is why they are such a great feature (I find them very motivating myself..going up hills…).

Unless there is a guy hanging ou the window shouting “come on, show me what you’ve got!!”, it would be hard to argue the same case for the Chevy. Even if there were, you’d be suing that guy, not Chevy.

My point is, what course of action do you recommend the family take if they want to get Strava to stop encouraging people to race downhill segments, because they want to try and prevent this happening to some one else?

Robert June 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Dear Short Bloke, your question is very leading and has the wrong assumption, but I’ll answer it anyway. I don’t want the family to do anything to get Strava to stop. To prevent this from happening again, I want all cyclists to take the matter into their own hands, and judge for themselves, and to knowingly and willingly accept the risks if they go out and try beat that record! I can’t believe I’m arguing this, isn’t it just common sense? Today it’s Strava, tomorrow it’s your riding buddy challenging you, the day after it’s a pro Tweeting about his 140 km/hr behind a car (look for Theo Bos 140 km video on YouTube). There will always be someone or something leading you up to to it. But ultimately, it is your personal responsibility if you take up the challenge…nobody else’s!

Short Bloke June 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Robert, you are of course completely correct. Cyclists do need to take responsibility for their own actions and every one should use common sense. It is obvious, and I am with you on that.

But that applies to both sides. Your buddy challenging you to a race down a big hill could be said to be showing some reckless abandon if the hill is clearly dangerous. You wouldn’t sue him, but you might tell him not to be so stupid. In the same way, it’s not unreasonable to argue that Strava are not showing much common sense by encouraging amateurs to race down hill on public roads. It’s a great app, and I am a big fan, but this one issue does trouble me.

The American way for getting someone to see your point of view seems to be to sue. If the court decides you are wrong and the other side are right, you lose the case. If you win the case it seems your point was valid. Pretty simple. In my view, ridiculous wins that go against most views of common sense and the often ludicrous awards they result in are the problem, not the concept of suing in the first place.

In the UK we tend not to resort to the courts so quickly, we are much more inclined to start a campaign, or write a letter, perhaps to The Times, what ever. But we still express a view and let the consensus decide what is reasonable.

ChrisSt July 2, 2012 at 7:52 am

I think the most pertinent and related case I can find is this:
http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/jury-rules-radio-station-jennifer-strange-water-drinking/story?id=8970712
The plaintiff’s family was awarded $16 million. In many ways the case is similar. Both involved contests offering prizes. Both involved people being “egged on” by the people running the contest. Both cases involved warnings to those running the contests (for those not aware, people had been warning about the recklessness of Strava since its inception.)
I do find it interesting that most here are focused on personal responsibility, with little regard for the concurrent corporate responsibility.

Jojo October 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I think Strava is a great training tool for cyclists and while I use it to improve my times uphill, I find racing downhill to be pointless in terms of gaining cycling strength and dangerous on public roads so I try to keep my downhill racing to mountain biking off road at organized events.
I have often said to people though that you don’t know your limits until you go beyond them, whereupon you either crash, burn or get lucky. So crashing (and burning and being lucky) are as much a part of cycling as anything else. Who amongst you hasn’t bragged about a cycling crash that they’ve lived to tell the tale of. But you learn from it and make sure that you do it better the next time.
Sadly, Flint won’t have a next time because he went too far beyond his limits and took risks that he found impossible to compensate for. It is surely our own responsibility to judge how far beyond our own limits we should go with respect to speed limits and the law in general, our own ability and the ability of those around us, and the prevalent conditions of the weather and the terrain and to take responsibility for the consequences.

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