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Contributory negligence ruling could sets dangerous precedent for injured cyclists

THE CTC is taking legal advice on challenging a court ruling which could leave cyclists liable to contributory negligence if not wearing a helmet when injured.

Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy manager for the CTC, called the High Court judgement in the case of Smith v Finch, “concerning,” and said the national cyclists’ association would be consulting its lawyers to prevent cyclists potentially losing out on compensation in the future.

The case concerned a collision between cyclist Robert Smith and motorcyclist Michael Finch, which resulted in Smith receiving head injuries causing him to lose all memory of the incident.

Although it was established that Smith hit the ground at 12mph, and the wearing of a helmet would have made no difference to the injuries sustained, the CTC’s concerns rise from the judge’s comments: “It did not matter that there was no legal compulsion for cyclists to wear safety helmets because there could be no doubt that the failure to wear a helmet might expose the cyclist to the risk of greater injury; such a failure, like the failure of a car-user to wear a seatbelt, would not be sensible and so, subject to causation, any injury sustained might be the cyclist's own fault.”

Although the judge found in favour of the claimant, Geffen told road.cc: “The judge appears to have set a principle at the high court level. We’ll be seeking legal advice as to how and what we need to do to challenge this particular finding or whether it’s better to wait for another case to come up.”

“Our stance is that people should be free to choose whether to wear a helmet. There is evidence to say that if you force people to wear a helmet, less people will cycle, and those who remain lone cyclists, will do so without the benefits of safety in numbers.

“We also know that cyclists wearing a helmet cycle less cautiously and drivers drive less cautiously when they see a cyclist wearing a helmet, it’s a kind of risk compensation.”

He also pointed to the role of the Cylists’ Defence Fund, an independent charity set up by the CTC, which cyclists can call upon when involved in potentially legislation-changing cases such as this.

He said: “I must stress the importance of getting good legal advice. We knew nothing about this case until it was reported. If we had we would have tried to get in touch with the claimant to make sure he was getting good legal advice.”

To contact the Cyclists’ Defence Fund, visit: www.cyclistsdefencefund.org.uk