News & Insights: Personal Injury

Cycling and the Law – Current Issues

13 June 2019

During Bike Week UK, which is taking place between 8 – 16 June 2019, there has been a lot of discussion about how we can improve road safety for vulnerable road users such as Cyclists. At present, cycling accidents generally fall into three main categories. We discuss below the main categories and the legal issues affecting each one.
Accidents with Motor Vehicles

With Cyclists generally sharing our roads with motor vehicles, when the two come into contact there is usually only one winner. At present, the law treats accidents between Cyclists and motorists in the same way as it treats two-vehicle collisions in terms of civil liability – it is simply a test on the balance of probability who is at fault for the collision. That means that each party simply must establish that it is more likely than not that the other party is at fault. While the Court will pay regard to the fact that one road user is significantly more vulnerable, the Cyclist still must establish that the motorist is at fault in order to establish liability.

There have, however, been developments in other countries away from this model of liability. Countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, which have very strong Cycling communities, have moved to a strict liability model. That means that, if there is an accident between a motorist and a Cyclist, unless there is clear evidence that the driver is not at fault, the motorist will be deemed responsible for the accident. Closer to home, there have been calls to introduce a system of ‘presumed liability’ in respect of accidents between motorists and Cyclists in Scotland, and similar suggestions have been made by vulnerable road user groups in the past. Presumed liability means that there would be a presumption of fault against the motorist, which can only be rebutted by clear evidence to the contrary. Such a change would bring the UK more in line with Europe in terms of the approach to Cyclists on the road.

Infrastructure Incidents
Cyclists, along with motorists, can encounter difficulties when they meet with road infrastructure issues such as potholes. Again, the consequences for the Cyclist can be much more severe, particularly if cycling at speed perhaps during a sportive event. If such an incident takes place on a public road, a Cyclist can potential obtain compensation from the Department of Infrastructure. However, it is not always straightforward.
The Department of Infrastructure is under a legal obligation to maintain our roads. In order to meet their obligation, they are obliged to implement a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance. Practically, this means that if an accident occurs due to a Cyclist striking a defect on the road such as a pothole, it is not immediately clear whether the Cyclist will be able to successfully establish liability. As solicitors acting for Cyclists, we notify the Department of the incident and if the Cyclist can establish the accident was caused by a defect on the road, the onus is then on the Department to establish that they had a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance. If they can show that they have regularly inspected the accident locus, and had a reasonable system of inspection and repair, the injured Cyclist can have difficulty establishing liability.
This is becoming more and more relevant in Northern Ireland. The Department of Infrastructure recently revealed that payments to motorists in respect of damage caused by potholes has increased significantly. While no such statistics are available for Cycling accidents, it stands to reason that where there are more potholes, there is a great danger to Cyclists on the roads. In the absence of a current NI executive, this trend appears likely to continue. If you have been involved in such an accident and have suffered injury or damage to property, please contact us and we can undertake the appropriate investigations to establish whether you can obtain compensation.

Cyclist-to-Cyclist Accidents
While not common, accidents can and do take place between Cyclists themselves. This is more common among more serious athletes competing on an amateur and professional basis. Most Cyclists competing in events will have the benefit of Personal Cycling Insurance to cover them in the event that they cause injury to another Cyclist. Aside from individual insurance, insurance can also be obtained for private Cycling Clubs to provide cover for any incidents that take place involving non-members of the club.
Unlike for motorists, there is no legal requirement to have cycling insurance. The minimum requirement for motorists is that they have Third Party insurance cover, which covers other motorists / road users if involved in a collision with the motorist. No such minimum requirement applies to Cyclist. However, if a Cyclist causes a collision with another Cyclist, the extent of the injuries to both parties can be serious. Without adequate insurance arrangements, the at-fault Cyclist could be personally liable to pay any compensation to the injured party. If you require any guidance in respect of insurance issues relating to Cycling or have any queries in respect of the extent of your current insurance coverage, please do not hesitate to contact us for expert advice.

Kevin Hegarty
O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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