Fenella Sinclair (A protected person by her litigation friend & daughter) v Rachel Joyner  EWHC 1800 (QB).
The Claimant was cycling along a rural road. She was in the middle of the road, standing on her pedals. She was not wearing a helmet. The Defendant was driving her car along the same road in the opposite direction. She had just come around a bend when she saw the Claimant. She had not been travelling very fast before the bend and she immediately slowed down to around 20 mph. That was the speed she was travelling when she passed the Claimant. Her evidence also was that she was as far over to the nearside of her lane as possible. As the car and and the bike passsed one another their wheels collided. The Claimant lost control and fell. She suffered multiple injuries, including a severe brain injury. She was left with a permanently impaired conscious level.
The trial was liability only. The Claimant’s case was that the Defendant had not kept a proper look out and had failed to properly assess the hazard presented by the Cliamant who was in the middle of the road stadning on her pedals. The Defendant maintained that as she approached and past the Claimant she was driving slowly and appropriately. She reasonably considered the Claimant to present a hazard which required her to do no more than slow down and drive past her. The Claimant lost control of her bike and deviated unexpectedly onto the Defendant’s side of the road so that contact occurred. She (the Defendant) was not responsible for that.
Mrs Justic Cox held:
1. The courts must not fall into the trap of imposing a counsel of perfection on car drivers.
2. Nevertheless, cyclists are amongst the most vulnerable of road users. The Highway Code expressly says so and advises car drivers to give them plenty of room.
3. The Claimant was on her side of the road but only just. She was also standing on her pedals. The evidence suggested that she was grimacing or loooking uncomfortable.
4. In all the circumstances, a reasonably prudent driver would have appplied the brakes immediately and stopped to allow the Claimant to pass safely. The Defendant did not do that and primary liability was therefore established against her.
5. In terms of contributory negligence, the Claimant should not have been riding in the middle of the road. Her conduct in doing so materially contributed to the damage and was negligent.
6. In assessing apportionment: “The causative potency of the motor vehicle is highly significant in assessing apportionment. There was a risk of very serious injury to the Claimant in this case if the Volvo were to collide with her…the appropriate apportionment of fault for the Claimant in this case is 25 per cent”
7. The Defendant had pleaded that failure to wear a helmet was contributorily negligent. It was not explored in evidence, however, and was not addressed in the Defendant’s closing submissions. The judge said that there was no medical evidence adduced to show that failure to wear a helmet had made the injury worse. The allegation was therefore rejected.
This strikes me as placing really quite an onerous burden on drivers. After all, the Claimant was in the middle of the road, on her pedals and approaching a bend. The Defendant was not speeding, she slowed down and she was as far over to the nearside as possible. To suggest that she ought to have stopped completely seems too high a requirement.
The case is also worth a read because it involved live evidence from the parties’ accident reconstruction experts. The Defendant’s expert appears to have been so poor in evidence that, ultimately, counsel did not rely on him. The judge thought this was wise and was critical of his report and his oral evidence.