Cycle accidents – how wearing a helmet can affect your compensation claim

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After his storming performances over the past 6 months, winning a number of top cycling events including the world famous Tour de France and just yesterday, the individual time trial gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics, Bradley Wiggins has waded in to the long standing debate on cycle accidents and cyclists needing to wear helmets.  I have now been involved in the Personal Injury compensation sector for 15 years and the debate about whether or not cycle accidents can be reduced and if cyclists need a law to force them to properly care for their safety has waged all through that time.   It’s fair to say, that should a cyclist have an accident that involves a cyclist hitting their head against the ground or a vehicle, a helmet will provide them with a greater chance of survival and enable them to avoid more serious injury, than if they had elected to go without one.  But the debate goes on, with some groups taking the stance that cyclists should have the choice to use a helmet or not and that it is irrelevant to cycle accidents as a subject.

But is ‘Wiggo’ right?

The champion British Cyclist has said that cyclists have to do all they can to protect themselves and minimise the risk of injury when they are involved in a cycle accident.  He has called for laws to come in to force cyclists to wear helmets and to not listen to iPods or MP3 players whilst on the road.  This would seem to be a very sensible thing to say and a good thing for the government to do.  Take a cyclist accident with a car, HGV or PSV Bus, they are likely to be injured.  It doesn’t soften the blow of the cycle accident, but if the car/bus/HGV driver is responsible, at least the cyclist can make a claim for Personal Injury compensation and for the damage to their bicycle.  However, if the cyclist is responsible for the incident, due to a lack of concentration on the road and traffic – for example because of listening to an iPod – they will need to accept liability.

Personal Injury case law – that is the precedents set in previous cases – deems that a person injured in a cycle accident that has failed to adequately protect themselves, such as failing to wear a helmet, or to display lights, will have a large portion of contributory negligence applied to their claim for cycle accident compensation.  This is the case even if the cyclist was not actually responsible for the incident. As a result, instead of being able to hold a 3rd party 100% responsible for the injury, they may only be able to hold them 50% or 60% responsible.  To put that simply, it would mean that for every £1000 of compensation that an injured person may have claimed, they will only able to claim £500 or £600.  The courts have previously stated that an individual must take reasonable precautions to minimise the risk of injury.  Failure to wear a helmet when they are freely available and relatively inexpensive, means that you are not minimising the risk of injury.  Basically, insurers will argue that an injury sustained by a someone as a result of a cycle accident when they were not wearing a helmet is more severe than it would have been if the same cyclist had worn a helmet.  They will then have a far lower settlement to make and reduce their liability as a result.

I speak as a cyclist myself.  I wear a helmet and I display lights.  I also stop at traffic lights and try to be aware of the traffic conditions so that I can anticipate the actions of drivers and keep myself safe.  However, all too often, cyclist can be seen riding on pavements, cutting through red lights, not stopping for pedestrian crossings and riding in a way that lends itself to accidents.

We pursue numerous Personal Injury claims arising from cycle accidents.  The injuries can be horrendous and very upsetting.  We agree with Wiggo and think that cyclists should be forced to wear safety gear.  Not everyone agrees though.

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