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Legally liable on your bike? A dangerous precedent emerges

Motorbike vs Cyclist (Image: YouTube)
Expert
3rd November, 2014
19
1617 Reads

Imagine this scenario. You’re riding down the street on a group ride. You turn to chat to the guy next to you and as you do you front wheel rubs the rear wheel of the guy ahead of you.

You go down, the guy next to you falls, and there’s an almighty pile up behind to boot, that grim, grisly sound of carbon and metal keranging onto tarmac, informed by the dull thud of fresh flesh smacking down and slipping all over the road.

Apologies done – and gingerly accepted – you limp home feeling a proper lemon, embarrassed and guilty at the mess caused by that moment’s inattention.

A week passes, two, the road rash diminishes, the new bar tape helps wipe away the shame and you’re back in the fold.

Then one day you get an envelope, sent from a solicitor. Inside is a letter informing you that you damn well better get some representation quick, because Jack Smith is suing your lycra-clad backside for a busted 50mm front rim and a fractured tibia that might mean he’ll never ride again.

Your fault? Well maybe the crash was, and yes, you said as much in front of 20 folks. But do you deserve to be sued for it?

News broke Saturday reporting that a Canberra cyclist has been awarded a AUS$1.66 million award in his case against fellow cyclist David Blick after a judge ruled against Blick.

Michael Franklin’s contention was that Blick had been negligent when he swerved to avoid a branch that was in his path. Blick is said to have tried to veer away from the ‘wooden obstacle’ but clipped it, then bumped Franklin, sending him into the oncoming traffic.

Franklin suffered spinal injuries as a result of the accident, which occurred in 2009, and is said to be still suffering from problems as a result of the incident.

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The judge declared Blick as ‘negligent’.

“Bearing in mind the size of the piece of wood and the lighting in the area,” the judge said, “I am satisfied that if the defendant had exercised reasonable care he would have seen and avoided the piece of wood.”

Reports state that Franklin had considered trying to get compensation from the driver of the vehicle he hit, but that his counsel warned him against it as the driver could not be shown to have been negligent.

Mr. Franklin then, it appears, turned his lawyer’s attention towards Mr. Blick.

Blick was insured so all costs have been covered by his insurer.

Blick and Franklin were reported to be friends before the incident, but whether they remain close is unconfirmed. Possibly, knowing he was insured and it would not cost him personally, Mr Blick holds no hard feeling at all towards Mr. Franklin.

However, this case does raise some serious questions, one of which is, is it safe to ride in group rides and in races? Another would be, is it safe to head out without some serious heavy duty insurance?

Also, the Franklin case sees the setting of a very dangerous precedent, one that could lead to the bankrupting of people less well insured than Mr. Blick.

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Another case, again from Australia, is still in motion and very similar to the Franklin case.
Olympic champion Sara Carrigan is being sued now for $750,000 for an accident that happened on one of her bunch rides.

Bernie Elsey Jr, the son of property developer Bernie Elsey, put in a claim for personal injury damages against Sara Carrigan Cycling and another cyclist Stephen John Milligan, as reported in the Gold Coast Bulletin.

The incident happened in May last year. Elsey Jr claims that Milligan’s riding ability was not up to scratch and that he was “not satisfactorily equipped to ride in the group ride that day.”

After the accident, Elsey was treated in hospital for a complex left fractured femur and had a steel rod and screws permanently placed in his leg.

“I’m just trying to get back some quality of life,” he said, citing the loss of his house as being a direct consequence of the accident.

In both cases, and right-thinking individual would feel for the two men injured in these accidents, but do we not, as cyclists, have to bear the responsibility of what happens to us out on the roads?

Should Sara Carrigan be at risk of losing her quality of life because Mr Elsey Jr had an accident? And should Stephen Milligan also be criminalised for an accident that he may or may not have caused?

Show me any experienced ride that has ridden a bike in a group or in a race that hasn’t lost focus or concentration and that hasn’t caused a single accident – or almost caused one, because often it is the skill of others around us that makes the difference – and I’ll eat that hat of mine.

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To be punished in this way for the random series of events that leads to a crash seems to me to be simply unjust and unfair.

I’d rather every sale of a bicycle sees $5 go to a nation-wide fund to be used just for such situations as these, let us all pay – and let us all benefit, when and if the time comes and that becomes a necessity.

I know of one Asian national cycling federation that is at risk of folding because one rider died after suffering heat stroke and collapsing, hitting his head on the pavement, at one of their organised sportifs. Despite the fact the he had signed a waiver, his family is suing for millions and, apparently they have a chance.

How? I do not know and I do not understand. Surely this man, this unfortunate guy, knew himself the risks involved. What is now at stake is the disbandment of a very good federation that is truly trying to instil a responsible cycling culture among local cyclists.

It’s a tricky one this. You feel for the families and for the guys that get injured, but, something in me just says this is wrong. Be very interested to hear your views.

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