Tue 13 Oct 2020

Should Insurance cover be mandatory for Cyclists?

Cycling has had a surge in popularity in recent months with many people looking for new ways to keep fit and active.  Its popularity is partly due to the fact that it's a relatively easy hobby to take up which anyone of any age can enjoy.  

All you need is a bike (if you are able to get your hands on one given they are in short supply!) and a helmet.  Nevertheless, it is not without risk and there are some other considerations to think about before setting off. 

Whilst the biggest hazard to cyclists may be motorists, pedestrians are also a hazard and often cause accidents by walking on the road or crossing the road without seeing a cyclist approaching.  Regardless of how an accident occurs, it is important to make sure you have appropriate insurance cover in place to protect you in the event you are involved in an accident, which may or may not be your fault.  This is highlighted by the experience of cyclist, Robert Hazeldene, which was reported earlier this year.

Gemma Brushett v Robert Hazeldene

In July 2015, Mr Hazeldene was cycling his bike at a busy junction during rush hour near London Bridge when he knocked over Gemma Brushett.  Mr Hazeldene was found by the Court to be a "calm and reasonable road user".  He was travelling at 10-15mph through a green traffic light when Ms Brushett stepped onto the road, panicked when she saw him and stepped backwards.  However, Mr Hazeldene swerved in the same direction to avoid her and hit her.  Both were left unconscious following the accident and Ms Brushett sustained a minor head injury and was left with a small scar on her face.  She subsequently raised an action against Mr Hazeldene seeking compensation for her loss.

The Judge ultimately ruled in the claimant's favour as in his view the cyclist was liable as "cyclists must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways".  Nevertheless, given Ms Brushett had crossed the road without looking her award was reduced by 50% to reflect contributory negligence, which is the part her actions played in the accident occurring.  Therefore, both parties were ultimately held to have equal responsibility for the accident. 

Financial Ruin

The financial repercussions for Mr Hazeldene of the negative judgement were potentially devastating.  He was ordered to pay £112,000 in compensation and legal costs.  This was despite the sum due in compensation being just over £4,000. 

One of the factors which caused the sum due to be so significant was because Mr Hazeldene did not make a counterclaim against Ms Brushett on the basis that he also suffered an injury and was entitled to compensation for his own losses.  Mr Hazeldene was apparently reluctant to do so as he disliked "claims culture".  He also chose to defend the case himself, rather than seeking legal advice from the outset.  Had he taken advice and made a counterclaim to protect his position, the outcome would likely have been different and the case would perhaps not have proceeded to a costly trial.  

Ultimately, Mr Hazeldene was saved from financial ruin due to a GoFundMe appeal which raised almost £60,000.  He subsequently reached a settlement agreement with the claimant which meant that he only required to pay £3,000 out of his own pocket over and above the funds raised to assist him.

How you can protect yourself

This case serves as a warning on several fronts.  First and foremost, in the event you are served with legal proceedings, you should take legal advice on their implications.  Secondly, it is important to ensure you have insurance cover to protect you in the event of an accident.  If Mr Hazeldene had insurance cover in place, this would have covered the full cost of the claim being made against him together with the cost of making a counterclaim against Ms Brushett.  From Ms Brushett's perspective, had Mr Hazeldene not raised the necessary funds to cover costs, he may not have been able to pay her the compensation she had been awarded and she would have had to walk away with nothing.

There are various other examples of situations where insurance could be of benefit to a cyclist.  In the event of a collision with a motor vehicle, the driver may make a claim for damage caused to their vehicle.  Alternatively, if you are injured in a collision with a pedestrian, insurance may cover the cost of pursuing a claim for any losses. 

If you have a home insurance policy which includes public liability cover, this may indemnify you for any claim which is made against you, as a cyclist.  Similarly, public liability may cover a pedestrian for a claim made against them if they caused the collision by their negligence.  On the flip side, legal expenses insurance is often included in your home insurance policy which provides funding to pursue a claim against another individual.  Having this insurance cover in place ensures individuals can secure the damages they are entitled to as a result of an accident without having to pay any costs.  These damages may include damaged equipment, compensation for injuries sustained, medical treatment, assistance provided by family members during recover and loss of earnings.

An alternative source of funding may be if the party at fault was working in the course of their employment at the time, in which case their employer's liability insurer may provide indemnity.  There are also specialist insurance policies for cyclists.

If there is no insurance cover in place, the party at fault may be personally liable for these costs.  This is a dangerous position to be in for all concerned.  As a defender to an action, you may require to pay a large sum of money to cover compensation, legal costs and expenses.  If you are a pursuer in an action, whilst you may be successful in your claim ultimately you may not be able to recover any compensation if the defender does not have the means to pay.

Time for Change?

In claims involving vehicles these concerns do not arise given it is a legal requirement for motorists to have insurance cover in place.  In the event a motorist does not have cover, the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) will step in deal with the claim.  This means that even if you are involved in a collision with an uninsured driver who does not have the means to pay you compensation, you will be able to recover your losses.  The funds for this are obtained through the insurance premiums of all law abiding motorists.  If the concerns raised by Mr Hazeldene following his own experience are more widespread, or likely to become more of a concern in the future, perhaps it is time that equivalent standards are put in place for cyclists to provide appropriate protection for cyclist, pedestrians and drivers.   

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