This is the first in a regular series of guest posts from national law firm Access Legal covering legal issues associated with cycling and cycle accidents. Lawyers in the Access Legal specialist cycle accident claims team are not only personal injury experts, they're also cyclists themselves who whole-heartedly agree with the aims and ambitions of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.
As we approach the Christmas season many more people may well consider getting on their bikes (weather permitting) for that outing to the local hostelry for mulled wine or cider. Certainly the sight of bikes outside pubs is not that unusual nowadays as the ‘cycle as alternative to the car for pub transport’ becomes more popular. Clearly, you can’t take things too far – retaining a sense of balance is pretty essential if your chosen means of travel has only two wheels (unless of course you’re into tricycles!) – and as legitimate road users, cyclists too must follow and respect all road traffic and highway laws.
That said, if you should be involved in an accident then your civil case for compensation is not decided on whether a law has been broken. Rather it’s an issue of establishing who was to blame for the accident. We here in the dedicated cycle team at Access Legal frequently come across allegations of drinking or even drug taking made by the defendant against the injured cyclists we represent to avoid paying (or at least minimising) any compensation that may be awarded.
It’s also that feeling of somehow being ‘culpable’ or at least being partly at fault for the accident because they did have a ‘couple of pints’ that convinces many cyclists who have been injured not to make a claim. Whilst cycling under the influence of alcohol or drugs is clearly a bad idea (as certain Tour winners have discovered) it wouldn't necessarily preclude you from making a successful compensation claim in the event of a cycling accident.
We’ve also come across some injured cyclists who believe that if the police were involved in investigating their accident, but decided not to take things any further, that must mean there's not enough evidence to establish fault or blame. If the constabulary couldn’t find any evidence to justify charges or possible criminal proceedings, then any possible claim is likely to be unsuccessful for the same reason and therefore not really worth starting.
The issue at the centre of any compensation claim is one of establishing liability. Who was to blame for causing your accident? You could very well be over the legal alcohol limit while standing (no matter how unsteadily) stationary with your bike at a junction when you are hit by a car or a lorry. Irrespective of how much you may have had to drink, there is no way that particular accident could be called your fault. The Highway Code also suggests you shouldn't really cycle on the pavement, but getting hit by a car if you are on the pavement doesn't make that accident your fault either.
The standard of proof required for a successful civil claim is completely different to that needed for possible criminal proceedings. We're probably all familiar with the 'beyond reasonable doubt' maxim in police and criminal cases where fault, blame and therefore guilt must be established with a high degree of certainty. That's only right as the sanctions and penalties associated with being found guilty may involve depriving someone of their liberty as well as large sums of cash, so it's important that there's as little margin for error or doubt in the verdict as possible.
However, with any kind of personal injury action, all a claimant has to do is prove their case 'on a balance of probabilities.' This means that to be successful you've only got to persuade the court that your version of events is more likely than not to be the correct one. It's the circumstances of the accident that count, not your personal disposition, state of sobriety or anything else which is germane to establishing that liability. Obviously we wouldn't condone cycling while intoxicated, but even if you were, that wouldn't necessarily make you at fault for an accident.
Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may be deemed to be 'contributory negligent'. The court would consider the percentage of 'fault' caused by the injured claimant, but the only consequence of that would be to deduct a proportionate amount from any award of compensation you receive. If you (or your actions) were not the direct and sole cause of the accident, you can still make a successful and legitimate claim.
About the author
Rob Aylott is a qualified solicitor working for Access Legal with a particular interest in cycling accident claims. He’s been a keen cyclist for many years and has won large damages awards for numerous seriously injured cyclists, whether their accident was a ‘hit and run’ or involved an identified vehicle and driver. Feel free to call our helpline 0808 159 5215 and just ask to speak to Rob to discuss your accident on a free of charge basis.