Cycling has become increasingly popular during the course of the last few years and as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, people have been encouraged to cycle to work where possible and of course cycling is a carbon neutral form of transport. The Highway Code recommends that a cyclist should wear a helmet which conforms to current regulations, be the correct size and securely fastened. It is surprising to note that whilst it is a criminal offence not to wear a crash helmet when riding a moped or motorcycle and an offence not to wear a seatbelt when driving, the failure to wear a cycle helmet has not to date, resulted in any compensation awards for civil claims being reduced as a result of contributory negligence. In the case of O’Connell v Jackson (1972) a moped rider who failed to wear a crash helmet had his claim for injury compensation reduced by 15% as a result of contributory negligence. In the case of Smith v Finch (2009) a cyclist who was not wearing a cycle helmet was involved in an accident involving a motorcyclist and sustained a head injury. The defendant argued that there should have been a reduction due to contributory negligence, however the court made no deduction as the defendant had failed to provide any evidence that the claimant’s failure to wear a cycle helmet contributed to his injuries. It should of course be noted that cycle helmets provide far less protection against head injuries than motorcycle crash helmets and some medical experts maintain that they only provide a degree of protection in very low speed impacts.
The Highway Code also requires cycles to be fitted with front and rear lights and to date, I am not aware of any court decision where damages have been reduced where there was a failure to display lights which is surprising. The Highway Code also requires cyclists to wear light coloured or fluorescent clothing to make cyclists more visible to other road users but again there are no court decisions stating that a cyclist’s compensation award should be reduced as a failure to do so.
There are a number of published case authorities where compensation claims for cyclists have been reduced as a result of contributory negligence. In the case of Tobias Phethean-Hubble v Sam Coles (2012) the judge concluded that the accident was caused by the car driver’s excessive speed when a cyclist turned out from the pavement into the road in front of the car driver resulting in an accident. The court initially reduced the cyclist’s compensation claim by one third as a result of contributory negligence. The car driver’s insurers appealed and the Court of Appeal applied a higher deduction of 50% to the cyclist’s claim because the court concluded that although the cyclist was under the age of 18, there was no reason to treat him differently to an adult, therefore the cyclist was equally to blame for the accident. In the case of Rickson v Bhakar (2017) a cyclist was involved in a serious accident when he was taking part in a cycling time trial on a dual carriageway. He collided with the rear of a white van and suffered serious injuries which left him paralysed. The defendant driver had been making a right hand turn at a designated gap and thought his path was clear. The driver admitted negligence but claimed that the cyclist was partly to blame for the accident. The driver stated that the cyclist should have noticed his van and kept a proper look out. The weather was dry with good visibility. The driver agued that the cyclist had been forty metres away when the van started to turn and had ample time to slow down. A witness confirmed that the van stopped for about four seconds before making the turn. The court held that although the cyclist didn’t create the hazard, he should bear some of the blame for the accident and the court reduced his compensation award by 20%.
In the case of Patel v Edwards (1970) the cycle stopped at a crossroads and wished to turn right into a minor road. The cyclist saw a car signaling to turn left and slowing down. The cyclist rode to the centre of the road to make his turn and as he did so, the cyclist overtook the car which had been turning. A motorcyclist ran into the cycle knocking the claimant onto the pavement. The trial judge held that the motorcyclist and cyclist were equally to blame and the cyclist was only awarded 50% of his damages. The judgment was appealed and the Appeal Court concluded that the trial judge had not given sufficient weight to the fact that the cyclist was moving in front of a substantially stationary car across a main and important road. The court concluded that anyone making such a move must naturally take care to see that he doesn’t get into the path of other traffic. The cyclist’s compensation award was reduced and he only received one third of his damages as a result of contributory negligence.
I have dealt with a large number of cycle accident claims over the years and in some of the cases, cyclists have suffered serious injuries and have received substantial compensation awards, therefore where there is a deduction for contributory negligence, cyclists can still receive substantial awards. It should also be noted that even where a deduction is made for contributory negligence, the cyclist is entitled to recover a similar contribution towards their costs and expenses from the other party’s insurers, therefore even if the cyclist is partly to blame for the accident, it is always worth considering making a claim.