Significant legal victory for cyclist

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 56.

As any cyclist who rides on the public road will know, there are hazards from other road users, and not just from moving vehicles. Stationary vehicles also present a risk of injury, particularly where negligent motorists open their doors without looking. In a recent case, the Court of Appeal had to decide whether a cyclist was in any way to blame for failing to avoid a collision when a door was opened as he was overtaking the vehicle.

The facts

The cyclist, Mr John Burridge, the former Aston Villa, QPR and Wolves goalkeeper, was cycling along the road when a minibus overtook him. The road concerned was a busy road and Mr Burridge was keeping well over to the side of the road. The driver of the minibus apparently heard some noise and decided to pull over. It was suggested that a door might not have been properly shut or that there might have been some other problem that needed to be investigated. He pulled over and stopped. There was no suggestion that the minibus driver should not have pulled over. He did not cut up the cyclist, although he must have stopped and parked quite sharply after passing Mr Burridge. The cyclist continued and began to overtake the parked minibus. As he did so, the driver opened his door. Mr Burridge was knocked from his cycle into the road and was then struck by another vehicle coming up from behind him.

The trial

In evidence, the minibus driver claimed to have looked into his rear view mirrors and not seen Mr Burridge, but the trial judge rejected the driver’s evidence and found as a fact that the minibus driver, without warning, had immediately opened the door of the minibus. The trial judge found that the minibus driver was negligent. Any suggestion that Mr Burridge was to blame for the accident was rejected.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this would be the end of the matter. Unfortunately, Mr Burridge had suffered severe injuries and a lot of money was at stake. If the minibus driver’s insurers could persuade the Court of Appeal to find that Mr Burridge was partly to blame they would save themselves a lot of money. They decided to appeal.

The appeal

The insurers argued that Mr Burridge should have anticipated that, where a vehicle has just pulled up, it is reasonably foreseeable that a door may be opened in the path of the cyclist and, therefore, that Mr Burridge should have taken action to avoid that possibility. It was argued that a cyclist in these circumstances should swerve away from, or ride clear of, the vehicle, or stop. The insurers argued that Mr Burridge was one third to blame for the accident.

The judgment

The Court of Appeal accepted that it is reasonably foreseeable that a driver might open his door without looking. However, one has to ask what a cyclist should do as he approaches a parked vehicle. To say that all cyclists who ride into opening car doors are partly to blame for the collision is to put too high a standard of care on the cyclist. If the cyclist gives a wider berth to the vehicle he is passing on the off chance that the door will be opened, he increases the risk that he will be hit by another vehicle coming up from behind. As to the suggestion that Mr Burridge should have stopped, in the words of the Court of Appeal, this is ‘not practical bicycling.’ The appeal was dismissed and Mr Burridge won his case 100%. The insurers had to pay the legal costs of the appeal, and will have to pay Mr Burridge damages without any deduction.

Andrew Wilson,
Partner, Levenes Solicitors, 46 Eden Street, Cambridge CB1 1EL