I specialise in acting for cyclists who suffer serious injuries in road traffic accidents. Over the last 12 to 24 months I have acted for a number of cyclists injured as a result of motorists opening car doors into their paths.
Every car driver has a duty of care to ensure it is safe before they or someone using their vehicle opens their car doors. The insurers of the car driver involved are required to compensate the injured cyclist whether the door was opened by the driver or a passenger. My father-in-law is a black cab driver and the only claim on his insurance in over 25 years of driving in London was when one of his passengers opened his cab door into the path of a cyclist.
In my experience liability for these types of accident is normally a formality. The only time I have dealt with an insurer who disputed liability involved my client who was injured as he cycled towards a set of red traffic lights. He was effectively undertaking a queue of stationary traffic which was also waiting for the lights to change. He was riding in a designated cycle lane. Suddenly and without warning, the passenger of the vehicle opened the car door into his path. My client had no time to react (both parties agreed that the impact was instantaneous).
The insurers for the motorist suggested that my client should accept 50% of the blame for the accident on the basis that he should not have been undertaking and that he was riding too fast. I could not understand the sense or rationale of such an argument. Firstly, my client was riding in a designated cycle lane, so, of course, he is going to undertake traffic in such circumstances. Why ride a bicycle at all if you have to wait in traffic jams?! Secondly, there was no evidence he was, in fact, riding too fast.
My research on similar cases showed that there were not many which had gone to trial. I suspect that this is because most insurance companies do not contest them. The only case I could find involving a car door and a cyclist occurred in Oman and the circumstances seemed unusual and complex. Even that case was decided completely in the cyclist’s favour.
I had a six month battle with the insurers. They made various different offers on liability after the initial 50/50 split. They went to 70/30, 80/20 and then 90/10. My advice to my client remained the same; do not concede any liability. The insurers eventually saw sense and accepted liability in full.
The injuries caused by these types of collision can be incredibly serious. Cyclists are vulnerable in such circumstances especially if they are travelling at speed. I am often dealing with claims involving serious and life changing injuries.
Recent examples of cases I have dealt with include the following:-
- A client who lost his eye after impacting with the corner of a car door;
- A client who fractured both wrists and was unable to return to his pre-accident job as a personal trainer;
- A client who suffered a spinal injury requiring surgery and extensive period of time off work
The only way these accidents can be avoided is by motorists taking more care and making sure they and their passengers do not open their doors unless it is safe to do so. There is very little cyclists can do in these circumstances as they will have little or no warning.