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Pothole crash cyclist wins £70k pay-out from council

Judge says rider bears no responsibility for crash that damaged his hearing

A cyclist who sued Hertfordshire County Council after he was seriously injured when he hit a pothole has been awarded nearly £70,000 in compensation at the High Court following a judgment that his solicitor said might “open the floodgates” to other claimants.

Alan Curtis, aged 56, sued the council as a result of the incident in Rickmansworth in October 2009 that left him with impaired hearing and suffering from short-term memory loss, reports the London Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall.

He also fractured his skull, suffering brain injuries, and broke his arm in the crash, which happened while he was out training ahead of a charity ride.

The newspaper says that Mr Curtis, from Bushey, insists that “I never came into this for the money,” and that the court was told that he had lost a £96,000 a year position as a fundraising director with a charity, taking a job that paid £30,000 less.

Most of the £69,425 award will go towards his medical bills, with £20,000 relating to possible unemployment should he be required to give up his current job and seek a new one.

Mr Curtis was originally seeking between £50,000 and £100,000 in compensation for the crash that left him with impaired hearing and forced him to take seven weeks off work to recuperate.

Judge David Pittaway said that the crash had been a result of either Mr Curtis’ wheel getting caught in a linear pothole or his being forced to swerve to try and avoid it.

“It would not be appropriate for me to conclude that he bears any responsibility for the accident,” the judge said.

“The permanent nature of both the cognitive defects and the nature of his hearing loss are significant disadvantages and make him vulnerable to further periods of unemployment.”

Mr Curtis said he was pleased with the result. “I didn’t expect to win a life-changing amount,” he said. “I just felt that someone ought to be held to account. In that sense, justice has been done.”

His solicitor, Kevin O’Sullivan, said the decision was “great news for cyclists.

He said: “This kind of case shows what a pothole can do. The injuries sustained by Alan were devastating.

“Hertfordshire could have resolved this case a lot sooner. We didn’t need to come all the way to court. They chose to take that course.

“I’m delighted for my client. He is a lovely man who has sustained really nasty, life-changing injuries."

In an email to road.cc he added: "The main message from this case for local authorities is that they don’t simply need to inspect the road, they need to make sure they do it properly.The case went in our favour because the judge accepted that when the local auth inspected the road 6 months before Alan’s accident, they did an inadequate job and the defect that caused Alan to come off was there to be seen when they inspected and they should have spotted it and repaired it.

"I’d hope this case will remind authorities that cyclists are much more vulnerable to a pothole than any motorist and they should be particularly thinking of cyclists’ vulnerability when they inspect."

A spokesman for Hertfordshire County Council said that Mr Curtis’ accident was “regrettable” but the council was disappointed with the judgement.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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