With the ever-increasing numbers of people cycling to work, particularly in London, and the increasingly common view of pedestrians walking along pavements looking at their mobile phones, it was only a matter of time before the courts were asked to consider the relative behaviours of cyclists and pedestrians when both take risks and an accident occurs.
The case of Brushett v Hazeldean was heard a few weeks ago in Central London County Court and involved an accident on King William Street in Central London. Mr Hazeldean was cycling towards King William Street through the junction with Cannon Street at rush hour. Ms Brushett was one of a number of pedestrians crossing King William Street towards Cannon Street at a pedestrian crossing. It was accepted evidence that as Ms Brushett walked across the crossing, she was focused on her phone and not looking where she was going. As Mr Hazeldean approached the group of pedestrians on the crossing he blew an air horn on his bike rather than slow or stop. When he saw the pedestrians moving to create a gap, he aimed to pass through the gap between them.
At this point Ms Brushett had almost reached the far side of the crossing. Although she has no recollection of the accident as she was knocked unconscious, it appeared to witnesses that she suddenly looked up and reacted to Mr Hazeldean’s approach on his bicycle. Rather than completing her path to the pavement at the edge of the crossing, she turned and ran back to the pedestrian island in the middle of the crossing. As a result of her change of direction and him entering the crossing close to her as she changed direction, they collided and both were injured.
Ms Brushett pursued a claim against Mr Hazeldean on the basis that they collided because he cycled across the pedestrian crossing when she was on it and he should only have entered it when he could be certain that it would be clear of pedestrians. The judge agreed with Ms Brushett that, on the evidence, it was clear that she (and others) were on the crossing and that it was inappropriate for Mr Hazeldean to simply proceed onto the crossing trying to clear pedestrians by use of his horn.
Mr Hazeldean, however, had raised in his defence the fact that Ms Brushett was not paying attention to her surroundings and other road users because she was looking at her phone and that the collision occurred because she only noticed his approach at the last minute and reacted in an unexpected way.
The judge also accepted Mr Hazeldean’s argument and was critical of Ms Brushett for not paying attention to the road and surrounding traffic in a busy area. As a result, he made a finding that the parties were equally at fault for the accident, such that Ms Brushett would recover damages against Mr Hazeldean for her injuries but would be subject to a 50% reduction of the damages to be agreed or awarded to reflect that her actions had equally contributed to the accident.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, comments: “This set of facts is likely to be familiar to most people who travel around in London at busy times and regularly see near misses between cyclists travelling at speed and not always heeding pedestrian rights of way and pedestrians who pay no attention to their surroundings.
“The court had to consider how this accident happened, whether both parties acted in a reckless or unsafe way and, if so, their relative contributions to the collision. The finding of an equal responsibility seems a fair one. It will be interesting to see whether any similar cases proceed to trial or whether this will become generally accepted as the way liability should be shared in situations where cyclists do not heed the rules of the road but pedestrians put themselves at risk.
“This case was interesting in that neither party had a clear recollection of events due to their injuries. But because of the location and time of day, there were a number of witnesses and the judge had to make findings largely on their evidence rather than that of the claimant or defendant.”