In this podcast, Accredited Personal Injury Law Specialist and BPC Lawyers Partner, Courtenay Poulden explains where does the law stand in relation to compensation for injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.
Dan: In recent times, it has been an exponential increase in the number of bicycles both on the road and pathways, and it follows that with the increase, there is also a rise in bicycle accidents. Now, when it comes to these types of accidents, where does the law stand in relation to compensation for injuries sustained? Well, to find out, I’m with multi-award winning lawyer and accredited as personal injury law specialist, Courtenay Poulden. Courtenay, when we consider bicycle accidents, what are we actually talking about?
Courtenay: Well, you’re dead set correct, Dan, when you say that there’s more bikes on the road and pathways than ever. The bicycle has been around since about 1817, I think, but certainly everywhere you look now, people are being encouraged to ride bikes for reasons of global warming and the like, and with that, of course, accidents are almost inevitable. One of the great problems of bicycle riders is when you have an accident, almost always pretty bad because there’s nothing to protect you from the roadway or whatever it is you might have struck. The liability question depends very much on the circumstances of the accident, I had mentioned to you earlier that. I’m dealing in a number of cases at the moment involving bicycle accidents and perhaps I could take you through just a couple of examples of the facts in each of those cases, which might give you and the listeners a bit of an idea about how it is that liability might be incurred.
Dan: Yeah, that’d be great, Courtenay. When we talk about bicycle accidents, people may well be assuming that it’s a bicycle and car, but that’s not necessarily the case. It can be a bicycle and a bicycle, or a bicycle and a pedestrian, etc. That’s the case, isn’t it?
Courtenay: Certainly is. The bicycle and the car is perhaps the one that we’re most familiar with, and those types of accidents where a car’s liable, a car driver is liable for the accident, it’s not much different to an accident between two cars. The motor accident law applies to it, and that’s pretty much something that most people will be familiar with. But it’s the other instances where there’s bikes and accidents and compensation that people perhaps won’t be as familiar with.
Dan: Yeah, great. Let’s talk about some of these cases that you’re currently involved in.
Courtenay: Well, two of the cases I’m involved with involve quadriplegia, which is obviously at the very highest end of the scale. One of them involves a gentleman who’s a doctor, I might say, who was riding as part of his social group on a Sunday up through the Central Coast coming down a fairly steep roadway, and he was confronted by a whole patch of gravel across the road, which skidded and he unfortunately went over the sidebar and fell down an embankment. Now, normally a bit of gravel on the roadways is not something you could sue over because that’s one of the things you would expect to find. But after our investigations, we found out that the local council had been doing roadworks at that very section of the road within a week prior to his accident and had failed to properly clear the roadway of all the excess gravel after they completed some of the repairs.
That opened the door for us to advise the client that we had good prospects of succeeding in what’s obviously a very major claim given the nature of these circumstances. Not all potholes and gravel and the like will lead to compensation. But where you can prove that there was some failure of people doing roadworks or people who have left something on the surface of the road that they shouldn’t, then that door is open, as I have said, for compensation. Another very serious matter I’m acting for, again, sadly, a client of mine who’s a paraplegic, was riding along a footpath in Belrose at about eight o’clock in the morning just minding his own business.
He’s a gentleman in his 60s who was going at a very modest pace, and as he passed the entrance to a club, a teenager, no doubt, rushing to school, came, exited through the entrance collided with him and caused him to fall to ground and suffer very real and serious injuries. Now, normally you’d think, Well, how can you claim compensation against a teenage boy who clearly wouldn’t have any assets? But we managed to establish that he was covered for that negligent act of his under his family’s home contents policy, which often does give you coverage for accidents outside the home, and so we’ve been able to amount a very substantial claim on behalf of our client, which is in fact coming up for hearing in the Supreme Court next month.
Just one more example, dogs and bikes are not friends. I’ve got a case for a lady who was riding out with her husband and children along a suburban street in one of the southern suburbs of Sydney. When a dog came bursting out of a property, ran straight into her, and in taking evasive action, she fell and suffered some pretty serious fractures. Now, again, the policy, the dog owner lived in the premises. You’ve got a responsibility to keep your pets inside and not to have them rushing out to create a danger to bike riders.
So again, there was an insurance policy in place which has allowed my client to bring what’s a very, very substantial claim. But, they’re just a few examples, Dan, there’s plenty of other circumstances where you could envisage a bike rider coming to grief, some of them are perhaps not compensable. I would have thought if there is a bike race, as there often are with a lot of bicycle clubs, you would be accepting the risks of what we would call normal racing incidents. I guess when you see these peletons racing along the road at 6 AM, if someone came a cropper in that activity, unless there was some deliberate act, I wouldn’t have thought that you’d be able to claim compensation there.
But there’s certainly a wide range of bikes who call activities where compensation would be available if there were serious injuries.
Dan: Courtenay, I was going to say, given the examples that you’ve just discussed, it would almost be the case, I would suspect, that the far majority of people who may be involved in a similar accident wouldn’t likely think that there’s compensation available for them because they would assume, given the example of the gravel on the road, that, Oh, well look, there’s nobody that I can sue in relation to that, and similarly, the young guy racing off to school or wherever he was going, you just cop it on the chin. Is that the real message for people listening to this podcast is to seek legal advice, regardless of how trivial you think the accident may well have been.
Courtenay: I think that’s exactly the point, Dan. I think a lot of people would see their misfortune as being something that’s just that misfortune. But our job is to investigate and advise, and in relation to, for example, those two quadriplegic cases. I mean, they’re collectively worth well over tens of millions of dollars. So the difference between not asking and asking can be major, particularly when you look at the lifetime needs of someone with that serious of disability in terms of accommodation, in terms of care and transportation, provisions of medication, medical consults. I mean, if you look at the life that they’d be confronting, if they’ve got a compensation fund to assist them, then they should firstly go and see a lawyer just to find out. We see people, excuse me, on a no-win, no-fee basis. We will give advice without a fee. That advice might be, I’m sorry, you don’t have a claim, but you wouldn’t want to sit back wondering where there might be entitlements available to you that you just may not know about.
Dan: Courtenay, we should also mention time limits in relation to these types of matters.
Courtenay: Yes, they are governed by the Civil Liability Act, except where a car is involved, in which case it flows along down in the same way that any other car accident claim would be. But three years is the general period within which a claim needs to be commenced. There’s a bit of grey area as to when that three-year period starts. But for the most part, you wouldn’t take that chance, you’d consult a lawyer as early as possible. It’s also important to consult us quickly because a lot of the evidence disappears as time goes by. A good example of that is the gravel on the roadway case. We were able to get up to the accident scene and have a traffic reconstruction and investigation expert with us. We were able to locate where there had been signs on a telegraph pole that said, Roadworks cycle hazard.
That was really what put us on notice that there was presence of council workmen on the site after about that time. The next step we took then was to issue an application under the Freedom of Information type legislation to the council to produce all its records in relation to roadworks, and what emerged from that was a whole lot of documents showing exactly when and where the work was being done, how much gravel was delivered, who was there, all that information is available to us. So, the advice is come and see us early so that we can investigate the facts. Even locating a witness becomes more and more difficult as time goes by, so I think it is important to act quickly.
Dan: Courtenay, thanks for joining me.
Courtenay: My pleasure, Dan. Cheers.
Thank you for listening. If you have any questions, please call Personal injury lawyers at BPC on 02 8280 6900.