On 21 April 2015 at around 1030am, Sally Nicol was riding her bicycle within a group of 4 very experienced club cyclists on the A811 Gartocharn to A809 road.
The group was travelling East at a speed of around 25mph. The weather conditions were dry and visibility was good. The group of cyclists was riding in chain gang formation for safety and efficiency purposes. Sally was riding in position no 2 immediately behind the lead cyclist.
The riders noticed ahead a large articulated lorry parked up on the left hand verge with its hazard warning lights on. The lorry took up most of the left hand carriageway. The road ahead was clear apart from one oncoming car which was in the distance so it was safe for the group of cyclists to overtake the lorry.
All four did their safety checks before pulling out, however, just as they started the overtaking manoeuvre and were within a few metres of the rear of the lorry, the driver, without any warning, slowly moved the lorry forwards on the eastern carriageway of the A811 in the same direction as the group of cyclists.
The lead cyclist had to take immediate evasive action and braked sharply to avoid colliding with the lorry. Sally also braked sharply but she was unable to avoiding colliding with the rear of the lead rider’s bike. Sally was thrown from her bike and landed on her back on the opposite carriageway.
She sustained multiple injuries (pelvic fracture and soft tissue injuries) as a result of the collision and had to be airlifted to hospital.
Sally came to Cycle Law Scotland within a month of her incident and a claim was intimated upon the insurers of the HGV. Further investigations were carried with the reporting police officers and Sally’s fellow cyclists.
Sally’s recovery from her extensive injuries took many months. In all that time negotiations continued with the lorry driver’s Polish insurers but the outcome was a firm denial of liability on the basis the driver had not moved his vehicle.
Following consultation with Sally, a court action was raised in the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court. Liability was firmly disputed. Following lengthy discussions, the value of the claim was agreed at £20,000. The case then proceeded to a full hearing on liability before Sheriff Fife over the period 11th October to 13th October 2017. Four weeks after the conclusion of the Proof Sheriff Fife issued his Judgment.
Discussion on the Judgment
Each case must be decided on its merits and the evidence put before the court. Sheriff Fife concluded that Sally Nicol and her fellow cyclists were all credible and reliable witnesses. They all spoke to the safety benefits of riding in a chain gang formation and that the cause of the collision was as a result of the vehicle suddenly moving forward.
The defenders presented evidence from both the driver and a local farmer who had witnessed the incident. Both individuals alleged that the vehicle had not moved, however, their stories were inconsistent with each other. Sheriff Fife therefore came to the conclusion that the pursuer had established liability on a balance of probability. Furthermore, he concluded that there was no contributory negligence on Sally’s part. No evidence had been put before the court to say what would have been a safe distance between cyclists and the witnesses for the pursuer were clear that there were both safety and efficiency benefits to a chain gang formation.
Other relevant cases
Cycle Law Scotland is only aware of one other case involving a chain gang formation. This was the case of Thomas v Warwickshire County Council. The facts of this case are rather distinct in that it was against a Highways Authority for their breach of duty to maintain a road. The claimant in that case was a cyclist who sustained injury after hitting a small spillage of concrete which was stuck to the highway causing a danger to traffic. Although primary liability was established, it was found that the cyclist was 60% responsible as he ought to have kept a safe distance from the bicycle in front and “by riding in that way, at that type of speed, on a downhill going into a bend, he was acting negligently and contributed directly and substantially to the fact that he was unable to avoid the concrete spillage and, as a result, suffered the accident subject of this claim”.
No such criticism was found of Sally Nicol by Sheriff Fife. The case of Sally Nicol is of interest to all cyclists who, for their own safety, adopt a chain gang formation. It’s an example too of Cycle Law Scotland’s tenacity and approach to litigation. Our specialist Solicitors are cyclists and it’s that experience of being out on the roads that enables Cycle Law Scotland to make a difference. We are not appointed by any Cycling organisation and pride ourselves in the services we offer to individual cyclists from experienced racer to leisurely rider. Cycle Law Scotland remains committed to improving safety for cyclists and we are delighted with the very well presented Judgement from Sheriff Robert Fife.