Cyclist, Mrs Fenella Sinclair, recently won the right to claim compensation following a collision with a motor vehicle.

As a Solicitor that deals with a number of cycling accident claims, I find this judgment to be a particularly encouraging result for cyclists who are looking to bring claims against negligent motorists.

The accident

In July 2011, 62-year-old Mrs Sinclair suffered multiple life-changing injuries including a severe brain injury as a result of a road traffic accident. She had been cycling in the middle of a rural road in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. She was standing on the pedals and was not wearing a helmet. Meanwhile, Mrs Rachael Joyner was driving her 4×4 vehicle in the opposite direction.

Mrs Joyner had just come around a bend when she noticed Mrs Sinclair. As the car and the bicycle passed one another their wheels collided, causing Mrs Sinclair to lose control and fall from her bicycle.

Mrs Sinclair was unable to give her account of the accident due to the severity of her injuries. Four years on, she has a permanently impaired conscious level and requires 24 hour-a-day care.

No criminal proceedings were brought against Mrs Joyner by the police. However, Mrs Sinclair’s daughter launched a civil personal injury action against Mrs Joyner, who denied liability for the accident. Mrs Sinclair’s lawyers gathered evidence from witnesses and instructed an accident reconstruction expert.

The arguments

In June 2015, the issue of liability in the case of Fenella Sinclair (a protected person by her litigation friend and daughter) v Rachael Joyner [2015] was considered by the High Court in a three day trial.

It was Mrs Sinclair’s case that Mrs Joyner had not kept a proper look out and that she failed to properly assess the hazard. She claimed that, in deciding to continue driving rather than braking and allowing her to pass, she did not allow her sufficient room.

Mrs Joyner argued that, as she approached and drove past Mrs Sinclair, she was driving slowly (approximately 20 mph), safely and appropriately, as far over to the nearside as possible. She asserted that, after considering the hazard, she was required to do no more than slow down when driving past her and that therefore no fault should be attributed to her for the accident

The decision

Within her judgment Mrs Justice Cox held that the courts must not fall into the trap of imposing an expectation of perfection upon car drivers. However, she found that, in the particular circumstances of this case, Mrs Sinclair had established that Mrs Joyner failed to properly assess the hazard and that she failed to stop when it was necessary to do so to allow Mrs Sinclair to pass safely by.

Mrs Justice Cox referred to the Highway Code, which draws attention to cyclists as among those who are to be regarded as the most vulnerable road users and who should be given plenty of room by motorists.

Mrs Justice Cox described the hazard as an oncoming cyclist who was standing up on her pedals, grimacing or looking uncomfortable and cycling very close to the centre of the road. She ruled that in these circumstances a reasonably prudent driver would have applied the brakes immediately and stopped, in order to allow Mrs Sinclair sufficient room to ride past her.

Contributory negligence

Although liability for the accident had been established against Mrs Joyner, Mrs Justice Cox did find Mrs Sinclair partly to blame on the basis that she should not have been riding her bicycle in a central position in the road. Her conduct in doing so materially contributed to the accident.

In assessing the apportionment of liability, Mrs Justice Cox appeared to indicate that the power of the motor vehicle is highly significant. She pointed out there was a risk of very serious injury to Mrs Sinclair if the car were to collided with her, as it in fact did. She held that, in all the circumstances, the appropriate apportionment of blame was 75:25 in Mrs Sinclair’s favour.

Mrs Joyner had argued that Mrs Sinclair’s failure to wear a helmet was also negligent. However, Mrs Justice Cox rejected this allegation on the basis that there was no medical evidence to prove that failing to wear a helmet made Mrs Sinclair’s injuries worse.

Now that the issue of liability has been dealt with by the court, Mrs Sinclair’s lawyers will move on to value the amount of compensation that she should receive.

Comment

The Sinclair case represents a significant victory for cyclists who have been injured by motorists. The apportionment of blame on each party will always depend on the accident circumstances. However, the Sinclair case illustrates the high duty of care that drivers owe to vulnerable road users, such as cyclists.