Whos at fault following a cycling incident?

By Dave Escandell
Published: 02:53PM BST 13 Oct 2010


There's plenty of case law available concerning road traffic accidents, but not a lot relates to cyclists.

Here, we look at some cyclist-specific cases, and some general ones that could be useful to cyclists involved in an accident.

As legitimate road users, cyclists must follow all road traffic and highway laws. Not doing so carries the risk of prosecution. That said, a civil case is not decided on whether or not a law has been broken.

Wakeling v McDonnagha & MIB [2007]

It was established that a defendant couldn't simply rely on the fact or possibility that the claimant broke the law when seeking to allege contributory negligence.

A breach of the Highway Code, if established, didn't create a presumption of negligence, and was merely a factor to be taken into account when considering the issue. The defendant was unable to discharge his burden to prove any allegation of contributory negligence. One thing often forgotten is that any allegation of contributory negligence needs to be specifically pleaded by a defendant, and evidence must be provided to prove the causative issue.

While cycle lanes appear to provide a safe area for cyclists, I have previously commented on them being a place of danger.

These dangers extend to other vehicles in the cycle lane, and that may result in liability being split following an accident. Despite cycle lane provisions and the Highway Code, it's been established that there is no 'right of way' for cyclists in a cycle lane.

The Highway Code highlights the duty of the motorist, to include traffic when turning, to give way to cycle lane traffic from either direction.

Clenshaw V Tanner (2002)

A cyclist in a designated cycle lane who collided with the rear of a breakdown recovery vehicle that was turning left across his path, was held to be 50% contributory negligent. The vehicle was always ahead of the cyclist and there to be seen.

Richards V Quinten (2000)

The court found that a cyclist riding in a cycle lane had the greater opportunity to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a car emerging from a driveway and although the car driver should have been proceeding with extreme caution, the cyclist was held to be 75% contributory negligent. In this case, the driver's view was extremely restricted and it was deemed that the cyclist should have seen the vehicle emerging.

The contributory negligence split in this case was specific to it, and a similar case with different distances between the vehicles may well result in a different percentage split of liability. The same can be said for incidents in which vehicle doors are opened into the path of cyclists.

Foster v (1) Maguire (2) Irwell Construction Ltd (2001)

A cyclist was found 70% contributory negligent where, notwithstanding that it was reasonably foreseeable that she risked injury by a van and trailer blocking a cycle lane, she failed to keep a proper lookout for her own safety and collided with the rear of the van.

Howells V Trefigin Oil & Trefigin Quarries Ltd (1997)

The claimant rode his bicycle into the defendant's stationary lorry, which was projecting slightly into the road. He was found to be 75% contributory negligent. The defendant appealed against the 25% apportioned to them, and on appeal the claimant was found 100% responsible.

Fagan v (1) Jeffers (2) MIB (2005)

The court found that a motorist had to proceed with utmost care and not cross the carriageway until he'd put himself in a position where he was satisfied no traffic was likely to come up the inside of the opposing carriageway. This case resulted in a 50/50 liability split, because the cyclist's view was as obstructed as that of the turning motorist. That said, the turning motorist should proceed with utmost caution.

Leeson v Bevis & Tolchard (1972)

The key point to remember about cases where a vehicle is allowed to turn across the carriageway by another vehicle, is that 'a motorist who flashes his lights, or gives some other signal to another motorist who is seeking to execute a maneuver, is merely saying ''I shall wait here until you have finished''; he is not saying ''It is safe to proceed"'.

Junctions are a naturally dangerous place for cyclists. The road traffic rules in and around junctions are straightforward and covered in the Highway Code. Much of the case law on junctions tends to revolve around misleading signals.

Misleading signal casesare relevant, and it's helpful to have an idea of how the courts apportion liability in such cases.

Of more interest may be the case law on filtering. Filtering or lane splitting is legal in the UK, and other motorists are warned of the possibility of filtering vehicles in the Highway Code, where Rule 151 says: "In slow-moving traffic you should 'be aware of cyclists and motorcyclists who may be passing on either side."

Despite the warning and legality of filtering, liability in accidents involving filtering vehicles tend to result in the sort of split liability decisions highlighted in the above article.

Another area to be aware of is the general rules surrounding highway incidents.

Michael Byrne v Welsh Office

Byrne suffered tetraplegia as a result of cycling into a drainage gulley. It's clear from the facts that the drainage gulley would most likely not have presented a car driver with a risk of foreseeable injury. Indeed, the gulley was described as 'a less than readily obvious hazard'.

However, the judge said: "In my judgment, no one giving 'close attention to the state of affairs' ...who was having regard to the use of the road by cyclists could reasonably come to the conclusion that by virtue of its existence injury was 'not in the least probable'. Injury was, in my judgment, readily and easily foreseeable.

Rogers v (1) Cambridge Water PLC (2) Groupbridge Ltd (2003)

In this case the defendants alleged that the claimant lost control when she braked to avoid a cable lying across the road.

The claimant alleged that the defendant was negligent in the management of the roadworks by not providing any or adequate signage. The court found for the claimant, with the judge not accepting that an experienced cyclist could easily fall off her bicycle without something there to cause a problem.

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