Brain injured cyclist pursuing a multi-million pound claim against local authority

Navdip Gill | Oct 2022

Every year, hundreds of cyclists in the UK are injured as a result of defects in the roads or cycle paths they are using. Sometimes the injuries sustained are only minor and recovery is swift, but in other cases the injuries can be severe and cause permanent damage which can be life changing.

Local councils and other designated highways authorities have a statutory duty to maintain the roads and cycle paths for which they are responsible, and where they fail in this duty it will usually be possible for you to claim compensation for any injuries you have suffered as a result.

However, it is rare for councils and other authorities to simply hold their hands up and admit that mistakes have been made and for this reason you will usually need to fight for the compensation you are owed. We know this because, as a firm which specialises in serious cycling accidents, we often find ourselves pitted against highways authorities who are reluctant to admit that they are at fault and against whom we need to deploy all our expertise in order to secure justice for our clients.

We are dealing with one such case at the moment, the details of which are explained below by cycling accident specialist and head of our Personal Injury team, Navdip Gill.

This is a case to watch as it concerns the maintenance obligations of councils in respect of mixed user routes and specifically routes which are designated for use by both pedestrians and cyclists.

A life-changing cycling accident in an underpass

Our client, a man in his thirties, was cycling downhill towards an underpass below a main city road in the South of England, when the front wheel of his bike suddenly got lodged in an uneven paving slab and he was propelled over the handlebars. It is estimated that at the time he was travelling at around 18mph. He was not wearing a safety helmet.

The force of the impact as our client hit the ground was significant, and as a result he has sustained a life-changing brain injury for which we say he should be awarded in excess of £1 million. This figure reflects the fact that:

  • he has been left with permanent brain damage;
  • he has had to endure several operations to insert metal plates into his head;
  • he now has difficulty in walking and suffers from persistent headaches, blurred vision, a loss of taste and smell, tinnitus, anxiety and depression;
  • he can no longer work as a highly skilled transportation expert, resulting in a significant loss of wages and earning potential;
  • he is suffering ongoing physical pain and psychological damage for which he will require continuing treatment and care; and
  • his relationship with his partner and children has been severely and negatively impacted as a result of his much-changed personality.

Basis of our claim

The city council was under an obligation to maintain the underpass, in accordance with the statutory duty of maintenance imposed on it under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980. We say that the council failed to comply with this duty as the paving slabs had been uneven for some time, they posed an obvious danger to cyclists and pedestrians using the mixed route, and this fact ought to have been picked up during routine council inspections and a ticket raised for appropriate remedial action to be taken to address the clear risk of injury that existed.

Position of council

The council deny that they are liable for the injuries that our client sustained. This is on two grounds. The first is rooted in section 58 of the Highways Act, which provides the council with a defence to our claim if they can show that they did all they could reasonably be expected to do in the circumstances to ensure that the underpass was not in a condition where it posed a danger to the cyclists and pedestrians who it was designed to be used by. The second stems from our client’s decision not to wear a safety helmet, which the council says increased the severity of the injuries that he suffered and therefore amounts to contributory negligence – which at the very least should reduce the amount of compensation to which he is entitled.

What we are doing to challenge the council

We do not accept that the council has a valid defence to our client’s claim and accordingly the High Court will now decide the issue of their culpability in 2023 at a five-day hearing.

To support our client’s claim we will be presenting photographs of the underpass at the time of the accident, which we ensured were taken quickly before the council could take the remedial action that we say they should have taken a lot earlier.

We will also be producing evidence from a highly experienced neurosurgeon, and from a road traffic accident specialist who has conducted research into the role of safety helmets in cycling accidents and which points to them only being effective in preventing or reducing the severity of injuries sustained in low-speed accidents, and of having little or no effect in cases where a cyclist has sustained a serious traumatic head injury.

We will present this evidence to the court and ask the appointed judge to look closely at how the council sought to comply with their section 41 duty, and specifically to scrutinise whether the way in which they approached condition surveys and safety inspections (in view of the mixed user status of the underpass) was adequate when viewed against both their own internal policy and the best practice guidelines in the Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance Management.

Our expertise

We are particularly adept in dealing with cases that other firms of solicitors are reluctant to take on, because of their complexity. This includes cases where the highways authority submits that they have done all that can be reasonably expected of them to keep the roads and cycle paths under their control free from danger and where allegations are made that the cyclist is in some way wholly or partly responsible for the injuries they have suffered.  Authorities may claim that the cyclist was at fault, for example by:

  • failing to look where they were going;
  • joining a road from a pavement without exercising due care and attention;
  • cycling carelessly, recklessly or too fast;
  • carrying out a poorly judged turn or manoeuvre;
  • stopping abruptly or without warning;
  • failing to judge the speed or likely path of another road user;
  • becoming distracted and losing control;
  • failing to wear a helmet;
  • wearing dark clothing while riding in dark conditions;
  • not having working lights; or
  • riding while using headphones or a mobile phone.

We are a firm that is not afraid to take on difficult or challenging cases to ensure that authorities who are not complying with their duties are held to account.

Contact us

To find out more, or to discuss how we can help you to pursue your own cycling accident claim, please call Navdip Gill on 01908 689338 or send an email at ngill@geoffreyleaver.com to.

 

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Navdip Gill | Personal Injury Partner

Navdip Gill | Partner

 

 

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