A cyclist confronted with an enormous legal bill after colliding with a pedestrian who was looking at her mobile phone at the time, has urged other bike riders to take out insurance ‘to help protect them from experiencing what I’ve gone through’.
Robert Hazeldean says he now faces bankruptcy after being ordered to pay £4,161 in damages to the cyclist, £7,000 for his own legal fees as well as £96,000 claimed by pedestrian Gemma Brushett’s lawyers, although this figure is to be contested.
Figures released by the Department of Transport in October 2018 show accidents of this type are on the rise with 531 people involved in collisions with cyclists in 2017, 15 per cent more than the previous year. Of these, 120 pedestrians were seriously injured and three were killed.
Yet recent statistics show that just 15 per cent of the UK’s three million cyclists have any insurance cover at all, either to bring a claim or defend one if necessary.
What happened in this case?
Ms Brushett sued Mr Hazeldean after suffering damage to her front teeth and facial scars in the collision which happened in July 2015.
In a decision which shocked many, County Court Judge Shanti Mauger ruled that the two parties, who were both knocked out in the crash, shared equal responsibility for the accident.
This was despite acknowledging that Mr Hazeldean was a ‘calm and reasonable road user’ and that Ms Brushett was looking at her phone as she walked out into the road in front of him amid a ‘throng’ of people.
Judge Mauger said: “Cyclists must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways.”
She added: “Even where a motorcyclist or cyclist had the right of way, pedestrians who are established on the road have right of way. Mr Hazeldean did fall below the level to be expected of a reasonably competent cyclist in that he did proceed when the road was not completely clear.”
‘Vulnerability of cyclists’
Since the case, more than £55,000 has been pledged to help Mr Hazeldean foot his bill on a fundraising page.
On the page he wrote: “Covering the costs and the compensation is going to exceed £20,000 and will leave me bankrupt. I can only hope that the focus on this case highlights the vulnerability of cyclists, both physically and against the courts, and that it might help reform a legal system that appears to leave certain road users disproportionately exposed.”
The £96,000 being sought by Ms Brushett’s lawyers will be contested at a future hearing as an abuse of process.
Whilst third party insurance is a legal requirement for motorists and covers any claims made against them, this is not the case for cyclists.
Even in a relatively minor collision with a pedestrian, legal costs and compensation combined can easily run into five figures leaving an uninsured cyclist – even if they weren’t at fault – with a potentially crippling bill to be paid from their own pocket.
Many cyclists have no insurance at all – it is available for as little as £37 a year including public liability cover.
Others mistakenly believe they have public liability insurance under their home insurance although this is not always the case so it is important to check.
Many people, particularly those living in cities, report an increase in reckless cycling habits – running red lights, cycling on pavements, jumping on and off pavements for instance.
And with the number of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians on the rise, many believe it is high time that the law moved with the times. Click here to see what we have written on this recently.
Currently there is no charge in relation to cycling that equates to causing death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, or careless driving, with a maximum sentence of five years.
Prosecuting lawyers are currently forced to use a law dating back to 1861, originally intended for drivers of horse drawn carriages, of causing bodily harm by “wanton or furious driving” carrying a maximum sentence of two years.
This was recently used in the case of Bristol cyclist Connor Coltman who collided with a pensioner, causing serious injuries, as she crossed East Street in Bedminster.
He was jailed for 16 months after eventually pleading guilty.
If you need help or advice about this area of the law, please contact Wards Solicitors’ Accident and Injury team.
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