Whether it is to save money or to enjoy the beautiful Devon countryside at a slightly slower pace, more and more of us are taking to two wheels. Our councils seem to appreciate this and are providing cycle paths enabling us to pedal the Tarka Trail in the North or alongside the Exe estuary in the East without having to worry about meeting oncoming cars or lorries. However, a recent Court decision has shown that it is when cyclists feel at their safest that they are at their most vulnerable, especially if they make the decision not to wear a helmet.
Wearing a cycle helmet isn’t compulsory; yet. It isn’t a criminal offence to cycle without a cycle helmet and there are no criminal penalties if you chose not to do so. However, there could be other legal consequences for any cyclist who suffers a head injury and didn’t have a helmet on.
Back in 2008 Simon Reynolds was employed by estate agents, Strutt and Parker. He took part in a team building exercise described as “active and energetic.” The exact arrangements were kept secret from employees until the day itself when it was revealed to be a cycle race. Simon was given a bicycle which was positioned next to a rack of cycle helmets. Unfortunately he chose not to wear a helmet and just short of the finish line he was involved in a collision which left him with brain damage.
Simon sued Strutt and Parker and last week the judgment was made known. He succeeded in his claim because it was shown that his employer had failed to properly risk assess the race, but the damages he was awarded were reduced by 66%. This was partly on the basis that he hadn’t worn a cycle helmet.
Although deductions in compensation for not wearing a cycle helmet have been common in out of court settlements for sometime this is the first instance of a Court making the reduction. Previously Courts have expressed a view that riding without a helmet is negligent because it is contrary to the Highway Code. The recommendation in the Code is that cyclists “should wear a cycle helmet that conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and correctly fastened”. There has been uncertainty about how effective cycle helmets and this has until now prevented judges from making any deduction.
James McNally, a partner in the Personal Injury Department of Slee Blackwell Solicitors says:
“What made the Simon Reynolds case different is that it involved a collision between two cyclists whereas previous claims had involved collisions with motor vehicles. Cycle helmets are only tested to impact speeds of 12mph; the speed of a fall to the ground from the saddle of a bicycle. If a motor vehicle is involved there is no proof that the injury would have been prevented if a helmet been worn. However, the judge in the Simon Reynolds case felt that the impact speed was probably within the 12 mph test range.”
“I expect insurers to now use this decision to push harder for deductions in out of Court settlements. I also expect the Courts to make similar findings in low impact collisions where the cyclist isn’t wearing a helmet and has suffered a head injury.”
Northern Ireland recently came close to making cycle helmets compulsory and in the UK a new bill before parliament would make helmets mandatory for children under 14; but for the moment the decision to wear a helmet or not still rests with the cyclist.
“This was a low impact collision which had massive consequences for the rider involved. The thing to take away from this is not that if you don’t wear a helmet you could lose out in a claim but that if you don’t wear a helmet you could be taking a massive risk to your own well being.”
James McNally is a partner in the personal injury department of Slee Blackwell and can be contacted on 01392 423000 or [email protected]
Click here www.headinjurylaw.co.uk to find out more about head injury compensation.