Since the great success of the British cyclists in the London 2012 Olympics, cycling has become a much more popular sport and hobby in the UK – with all the associated health benefits. However, the number of cyclist deaths and serious injuries on the roads, particularly in central London, has also been on the increase over recent years and there are some serious road safety concerns for cyclists.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches, shares her experience of dealing with claims involving injuries sustained by cyclists. “In the vast majority of cases, injuries are sustained as a result of a collision with a vehicle. Typical accident circumstances include vehicles overtaking cyclists who are signalling and turning right and vehicles pulling out of junctions into the path of a cyclist. We also see incidents caused by vehicles driven too close or too fast and without space or time to react. While we welcome the recent police project in Birmingham in which undercover police are targeting drivers who are too close to cyclists, much more effort and investment is needed to try to make our roads as safe as possible for cyclists.
“In the personal injury cases that we deal with, as well as certain accident circumstances which arise frequently, there are also some issues that need careful consideration.”
The use of cycling helmets has become far more common in recent years and there is no doubt that the use of a cycle helmet reduces or avoids head injury in many cases. However, as yet, there is no legislation which requires the wearing of helmets by cyclists. In cases where the injured cyclist was not wearing a helmet, this can be an issue of some significance as the defendant (usually via their insurer) argues that the claimant should have worn a helmet and should have their damages reduced.
In some cases in which the wearing of a helmet would not have avoided the injuries sustained, the issue is easily resolved but in others this is an ongoing issue. There is case law on the subject which provides some assistance but, as yet, there is no hard and fast guidance as to where deductions in damages should be made and what they should be.
Another issue that frequently arises is visibility of the cyclist. Many cyclists are extremely conscientious about using reflective clothing and suitable lighting but their use is not universal. Again there is no legislation requiring their use but the Highway Code provides guidance on the wearing of appropriate clothing and depending on the road / light / weather conditions. A failure to do so can result in a reduction of damages for an injured cyclist if it was a contributing factor to the accident.
We have dealt with several cases where a cyclist causes injury to another cyclist. This raises some additional issues as there is no requirement to have insurance when cycling on the road, unlike driving a road vehicle. There can also be issues in tracing a cyclist in such circumstances if they leave the scene. Careful consideration and investigation on these issues is therefore necessary before damages can be secured.
These can often be overlooked when the focus is on physical injuries and recovery. In some cases after a cycling accident, individuals suffer such anxiety about what happened that they feel unable to return to cycling. This can have a significant impact on them practically and psychologically if cycling has played a big part in their life. It is therefore important to consider this – not least because treatment such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can sometimes make a real difference and can be funded through a claim.
Not all cycling claims involve other road users. Other causes of accidents can include road defects, defects in bicycles or their maintenance, poor lighting and animals. In these cases, careful investigation is also needed to identify the potential defendant and whether their action(s) or inaction(s) caused or contributed to the accident.
Cycling claims are therefore often quite complicated and subject to various arguments and issues specific to these types of claims. Thorough investigation and good evidence are therefore key to both advising on and succeeding in such claims.