Cycle helmets and contributory negligence

Smith v Finch (2009)

One evening, a cyclist intending to turn right into a house, collided with a motorcyclist attempting to overtake him on the road. The cyclist was not wearing a helmet and sustained serious brain injuries from the accident.

The motorcyclist was well in excess of the 30 mph road limit and afforded the pursuer insufficient room when overtaking. In response, the motorcyclist raised the issue of contributory negligence on the basis that the cyclist had not been wearing a helmet. In other words, the motorcyclist argued that the cyclist had contributed to their own head injury by foregoing the protection a helmet offered.

It was held within the case that an injury sustained by a cyclist may be their fault if no helmet is worn.

However, in this specific case, the defender failed to prove that a helmet would have precluded or alleviated the pursuer’s head injuries.

Expert evidence was cited showing that a helmet produced under EU standards would only protect a cyclist from an impact of under 12 mph; the pursuer had hit the ground at a speed of more than 12 mph. Therefore, it would have made no difference in the wearing of a helmet and therefore no contributory negligence was found against the pursuer.

The full case can be viewed here.


Phethean-Hubble v. Coles [2011] EWHC Civ 363; [2012] EWCA Civ 349 (CA)

A 16 yr old boy was cycling along a footpath at 8pm without a helmet. It was dark, although there was street lighting. A motorist was driving a car along the road beside where the cyclist was travelling. The cyclist rode his bicycle off the footpath and onto the road at an angle to the car. A collision occurred. The cyclist sustained significant head injuries. The Defender was driving above the speed limit.

Contributory negligence was found on the basis of the pursuer leaving the pavement in a careless manner that encroached into the path of oncoming vehicles. However, the absence of a helmet did not contribute to the pursuer’s injuries. Though not wearing a helmet meant a cyclist ran the risk of contributing to their injuries, it was found that no difference would have been made in the case given the defender’s excessive speed.

The full case can be found here.

Reynolds v. Strutt and Parker [2011] EWHC 2263 (QB) 

A cyclist was participating in a cycling race organised by his employer. During the race, the cyclist acted recklessly when preventing another competitor from passing him. In the process of this behaviour, the cyclist collided with the competitor and sustained a head injury. He was not wearing a helmet, but helmets were available prior to the race beginning.

The cyclist raised a claim against his employer for failing to properly determine the need of competitors to be required to wear helmets. In response, contributory negligence was raised against the cyclist. It was held that given the impact speed was below 12 mph (the threshold propounded in Smith v. Finch) and given the pursuer’s reckless cycling behaviour, two-thirds contributory negligence was made. However, the exact deduction for not wearing a helmet is unknown since the two contributory elements were not separated. The specific circumstances of the case limit its larger implications and shed little light on situations involving cyclists and motorised vehicles.

The full case can be found here.


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