I recently won a case at trial for a cyclist who was injured as a result of a motorist opening his car door into her path. As a result of the impact, my client was knocked off her bicycle into the path of an oncoming lorry, who had to apply his emergency brakes to avoid running her over.
Cyclists riding beside parked motor vehicles, whether in bike lanes or on roadways, are at serious risk of being “doored.” Dooring collisions happen when a driver or passenger opens a car door directly into a cyclist’s line of travel. These accidents can cause devastating injuries and in some cases, can be fatal.
The motorist’s insurers in my case initially denied liability and attempted to paint this event as my client’s fault for somehow failing to avoid the opening door, or failing to steer around it. They also argued that my client should be partially at fault for driving in the door zone. The insurers claimed that cyclists should know that a parked car might open its door at any moment and so they should ride a safe distance away in case this occurs. However, this argument is weak. It is the driver’s responsibility to make sure it is safe to open the door, not just to avoid a cyclist, but in case another car or pedestrian is approaching behind them. Further, there is very little cyclists can do to avoid these accidents. Sometimes, a cyclist may swerve into traffic to avoid running into a car door and, in the worst case, end up being hit by an oncoming vehicle.
In busy cities, or areas with a high volume of traffic, cyclists will be wary of riding too far into the road away from the door zone for fear of putting themselves in even more danger. In any event, the argument for cyclists not driving within the door zone was thrown out by the court in a previous case called Malasi v Ahmed  EWHC 4083 (QB).
The insurers in my case maintained their denial of liability. I issued court proceedings and various offers on liability followed thereafter. We eventually agreed to accept a 90/10% split on liability in our favour, to take into account the litigation risk. Therefore the only issue that remained outstanding before trial was the amount of the damages payable.
Cyclists are vulnerable road users and the injuries caused by these types of collisions can be incredibly serious if not life changing. I have acted for a number of cyclists whose injuries have had a devastating and lasting effect on their lives.
My client was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Therefore, as soon as the medical evidence was complete, we made various offers to try to settle the claim. We made a final offer to accept £20,000. However, the insurers refused to make any sensible counter offers. Therefore, we proceeded to trial.
Having considered all of the evidence Deputy District Judge Whitely concluded that taking into account the 90/10 spilt on liability, my client should be awarded £20,337.44. Therefore, as we had beaten our offer, my client was also entitled to her award being increased by 10%; interest on damages after 21 days from the service of the offer to be paid at 10% above the base rate; hers costs from that date be assessed on an indemnity basis; and interest on those costs also be paid at 10% above the base rate. My client was extremely pleased with the result.
The only way these accidents can be avoided is by drivers taking more care. The UK’s official road-user rulebook is to incorporate a simple technique to make it more likely that motorists look over their shoulders when opening car doors. The next printed revision of the Highway Code will introduce British motorists to the so-called “Dutch Reach,” a method of opening a car door with the hand furthest from the handle, forcing drivers and passengers to check over their shoulders for approaching traffic. It is hoped that this method will increase cyclists safety whilst on the road.