The Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog

Kid Dies on Illegal Dirtbike; Parents, Cops Blame Each Other

Dirt bikes and ATVs are popular in Philly with the kids and hated by the cops. It’s not surprising that they are loved by teens. The bikes are cheap, fun to ride, and plentiful. Kids can get one for only a few hundred dollars and zip around town, free from parental supervision.

On the other side of the road, cops hate them. They tear up parks, are prime targets for theft, and they are dangerous to the rider. Most aren’t registered or insured and they are illegal.

Jermaine “Dirt Bike Maine” Alexander, 14, was especially fond of the little bikes, reports the Philadelphia Daily News. He learned to ride at age five and by the time he was fourteen, he could turn even the worst junk bikes into something ride-able.

His mother, Sarina Howard-Witherspoon, knew of the dangers yet trusted her son enough to buy him two dirt bikes in the last few years for Christmas. She saw it as a healthy outlet and alternative to the gangs and drugs that occupied so many of his peers. She thought it would be safer.

Jermaine died on March 13th, reports the Daily News. He was riding a dirt bike in front of the other kids at his school, along with his friend Eric. According to Eric, the police, driving a marked cruiser, gave chase. The two split up and Jermaine evaded the cops. According to his family, the cops had chased him previously, with one of them bumping Jermaine's tire with their cruiser the day before. After zigzagging through the neighborhood, Jermaine's bike collided with a car that turned in front of him.

Some witnesses say that Jermaine collided with an unmarked police van that participated in the pursuit.

The police tell an entirely different story. They have an official non-pursuit policy, as pursuits are dangerous and the crime is non-serious. They state that they did not chase Jermaine that day. And the response to the allegation that a police van was involved in the crash? "Show us the tape."

It is not clear that the police, even if they did give chase, would be liable for Jermaine Alexander's death. Jermaine certainly knew the dangers of riding dirt bikes, as did his mother. He also was probably old enough to know the dangers of fleeing from the police on a high-speed dirt bike. The legal defense of assumption of risk may apply.

The theory is as simple as it sounds. Jermaine (and his mother, as he is a minor) assumed the risk inherent in illegal dirt bike riding and in evading the cops when he engaged in those activities. In Pennsylvania, the related concept of comparative fault, also known as comparative negligence, applies. If a jury were to find that Jermaine was more at fault than the police were, then his family would recover nothing. If he was less at fault then the police, then the recovery would be diminished by whatever percent of the fault is assigned to him by the jury.

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