Cyclists who don’t wear helmets can be guilty of contributory negligence

February 4, 2009

Photo by buzz.bishop used under license

From BikeRadar:

A new High Court judgment means cyclists who don’t wear helmets can be guilty of contributory negligence if they are injured in a road accident in the UK.

Considering a case where a cyclist and motorcyclist collided (Smith v Finch 2009), Mr Justice Griffith Williams ruled that the cyclist could have been found partly liable if wearing a helmet would have prevented or reduced his or her injuries.

In this particular case, it was accepted that a helmet would not have protected the cyclist, Robert Smith, because of the speed at which he hit the ground.

But Richard Brooks from law firm Withy King told BikeRadar that this ruling means that if you are injured and a cycle helmet could have reduced your injuries, you may not be able to recover full compensation.

Cyclists who “expose themselves to a greater degree of injury” by not wearing a helmet can now be found to be negligent, even though it is not a legal requirement in the UK to wear head protection when cycling. However, for this to happen it would have to be proved – using medical and other evidence – that a helmet would have prevented all of their injuries or made them a good deal less severe.

[Update 7 Feb]

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.


8 Responses to “Cyclists who don’t wear helmets can be guilty of contributory negligence”

  1. […] today via Adrian Fitch’s Random Ramblings – a story about bicycle helmets, accidents and blame as reported in BikeRadar. Putting it simply: […]

  2. I just followed my way over here from Karl’s blog. it seems a bit of a compromise ruling, but I don’t think it does cyclists any favours.

  3. buzz Says:

    I was amazed too when I took that picture. In 15 minutes at a busy bike path I caught DOZENS of people not wearing helmets.

    The best ones are those who HAVE a helmet, yet it’s
    hanging from the handlebar or sitting in their basket.

  4. Groover Says:

    I’m not too sure what the problem is with this ruling? Why opposing wearing a helmet and exposing yourself to higher risk by insisting on not wearing a helmet and then not taking responsibility for contributory negligence? Why not just wear a helmet? It’s like wearing seatbelts, isn’t it?

  5. The problem is that there is a lot of evidence that helmets aren’t all that effective, so in cases like this, they would not help. There is also some evidence that they could make an accident worse.
    We can argue about the evidence as presented, but the fact remains it isn’t black and white Helmet=safe, no helmet=not safe, so not wearing a helmet shouldn’t be taken as evidence of contributory negligence.

  6. Edwin Says:

    Yeah, safety first.

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