Court rules in catastrophic cycling accident case - who is to blame for injury?

On 10 November 2016, the High Court issued its judgement in the case of Ahmed v MacLean, finding a cycling instructor 80% liable for a cycling accident that left a solicitor paralysed, during a mountain-bike lesson.

Mountain Bike Accident Instructor Liability Catastrophic Cycling Accident Lawyer Scotland

Cycling accident - the background

Ahmed (The claimant) booked a beginners mountain bike tuition course at a cost of £79.00. The Course commenced on 25 March 2012 at 10am and was due to last a period of six hours. Three other individuals had also booked a place on the course with two of those arriving on time. By 10:15, the fourth member had still not arrived and the instructor, MacLean (the defendant) decided to commence the course and the group set off, ascending to the top of Holmbury Hill, in Surrey. No assessment of the individual capabilities of the group was carried out prior to embarkment.

The group, thereafter, set off on a relatively level section, prior to travelling downhill towards a bisecting highway known as Radnor Road. At this point, another section of the route commences which is known locally as "Barry knows best". This section is a downhill, single track trail, and within a few hundred metres of its commencement, a point is reached whereby a steep downward slope is encountered. Barry knows best is considered a "blue trail" and not "ideal" for teaching novice cyclists on.

The Defendant demonstrated how to ride down the route, using his brakes to slow him down and his body balanced towards the rear of the bike. Apart from that instruction, the claimant did not recall any other instructions apart from that he should not brake at the top of the slope, as it would cause him to lose his balance.

Following the demonstration, the claimant attempted the route. He commenced near to the top of the slope and went slowly down the main slope. As he got closer to the bottom of the slope, he began to fall over but was able to put a foot on the ground, to save himself. Following that, the defendant was alleged to have told the claimant that although his ride down the slope was okay, next time he should start further back which would give him more speed when riding down the slope. The defendant did not tell the claimant that he had travelled down the wrong part of the slope, by careering to the left.

As the claimant cycled down the slope for the second time, he walked further back up the track in order to gain more speed, as instructed by the defendant. The claimant had walked so far back that he could not see the top of the slope from where he commenced his second ride down. He pedalled along the track towards the top of the slope, and did not recall applying his brakes or verging to the left. As he went down the slope, he was aware of his front wheel jamming on a mud mound. As a result, the claimant went over the top of his handlebars and landed on his head resulting in serious and catastrophic injury, rendering the claimant paraplegic. Whilst awaiting an ambulance, the defendant told the claimant that he had ridden down the wrong part of the slope. This part of the slope is to the left of the main route and has debris on it.

Prior to the cycling accident, the claimant was a reasonably fit individual attending the gym around 3-4 times per week and played cricket at the weekend.

The allegation of negligence

The Claimant raised a personal injury action against the defendant alleging that his spinal injury was caused by the negligence of the defendant for his failure to take reasonable care of the claimant's safety during the cycling course.

The legal decision

The Sheriff was satisfied that despite some background experience, prior to attending the defendant's course, the claimant would not have known how to operate the braking system, or how to perform any of the skills required to ensure his safety on some sections of the terrain, encountered on the course. Given that, the Sheriff accepted that the claimant was a novice mountain bike rider.

Further, he was of the view that the defendant was overly optimistic as to the ability of those attending his courses to keep pace with the instruction and training which he provided. On the day of the accident, instead of determining the capabilities of each individual, he appears to have set off from the car park without having made any such assessment. Expert evidence was led and accepted by the Sheriff that such an assessment was necessary and should have been undertaken by the defendant. The cycling lesson should have been tailored to ensure the safety of the least able of those attending his course, a matter of which the Sheriff considers the defendant ultimately failed to achieve.

For those reasons, the Court held that the defendant is at least in part liable to the claimant for this accident, in that the accident was caused by his failure to carry out his tuition with reasonable skill and care, so as to enable the claimant to ride down the slope, in safety. Judge Baker considered that having failed to carry out an adequate assessment of the claimant's individual skill level at the commencement of the course, he thereafter progressed the tuition which he provided to the group, without sufficient regard to the claimant's capabilities. The defendant failed to teach the skills required to negotiate the slope where the accident took place in safety, and thereafter allowed the claimant to attend to negotiate the steep slope and on his second attempt, encouraged him to do it again at speed – this was likely to increase the risk of serious injury to the claimant.

Contributory negligence in serious injury cases

The defendant submitted to the Court that even if he bears some liability for the accident, the claimant should be found as having contributed to the accident for not indicating to the defendant that he was not confident riding down the slope in safety.

In considering the position, the Court referred to the case of Anderson v Lyotier (t/a Snowbizz). (More about that case here) In this case the pursuer was taking part in a mixed ability ski lesson. During the lesson, the claimant was seriously injured when she was instructed to ski down an off-piste section of the slope. The defendant in that case had failed to carry out any assessment of the individual capabilities of those participating in the lesson. The Judge in that case held that although the defendant was largely to blame for the accident, the claimant also bore some responsibility on the basis that he failed to notify the defendant instructor that he was either feeling sufficiently concerned for his safety or lacked the ability to carry out the run.

In the current case, the claimant submitted that the Judge should not find any contributory negligence on the part of the pursuer as there was no evidence that the pursuer considered that the cycling slope was out with his ability and that he had any concerns regarding his safety. The Court disagreed with that argument and referred to witness evidence from the two other cyclists, present that day, that confirmed that the claimant appeared to be hesitant and unsteady about riding down the slope. Given that, the Court held that the claimant should not only have appreciated that he lacked the ability to complete the task safely or at least, been concerned for his safety, but he ought to have raised the matter with the defendant.

The Court accepted that following the first descent down the slope, the defendant had advised the claimant that his technique was okay and thereafter, advised the claimant that on the second attempt, he should descend at speed. That feedback provided false reassurance, in the Court's opinion, and although it did not have the effect of totally eclipsing the claimant's responsibility for his own safety, it did have a bearing on the apportionment of liability between the parties, as a result of the cycling accident.

Accordingly, the defendant bears 80% liability whilst the claimant is found to be 20% liable.

The settlement value has yet to be determined as the case was on liability only. The value of the claim is likely to reach into the millions when pain and suffering, future rehabilitation costs and any potential loss of earnings is considered.

Contact our personal injury solicitors

When considering choice of solicitor, it is important to ensure that injured parties instruct specialised solicitors with knowledge in cycling and experience in serious injury litigation, in order to protect their best interests.

If you've suffered a similar injury our solicitors can help you secure the justice and compensation you deserve. Get in touch now for a free chat about your claim.

We will be able to give you an indication of the potential value of your claim. Remember with us you keep 100% of the compensation your receive.

 

The small print: This blog is for information purposes only and should not be construed in any way as providing legal advice.