Old railway bridges can be hazardous for cyclists

On 3 July 2013, Joe, a keen recreational cyclist, fell from his bicycle as he crossed an old railway bridge that had been incorporated into a cycle path in the Midlothian area.

The bridge deck was covered in wooden slats which had been laid parallel to the direction of travel. As Joe cycled across the bridge, the front wheel of his bicycle became caught in a gap between two slats.

Wheel caught in gap between slats

Joe was thrown from his bicycle, breaking and dislocating his arm. He was taken to hospital by ambulance and required surgery to insert plates and screws into his forearm to stabilise the injury.

As a Trade Union member, Joe was referred directly to a general personal injury firm of solicitors to seek compensation for his injury. Following investigations, they turned down Joe’s case on the basis that there were not reasonable prospects of success against the Council. Upon review of the solicitor’s file, it appeared that although they had spoken with an engineer, they had never instructed a formal report. Road defect cases are very rarely straightforward and therefore to pursue one full investigations need to be carried out.

Joe came to Cycle Law Scotland rather dejected and wanted to know if there was anything we could do to assist him in making a claim for compensation given the severity of his injuries.

In Scot’s law, an injured party has three years from the date of incident to raise a Court action against the negligent party. Joe came to Cycle Law Scotland close to three years following his accident. In order to avoid the case becoming time-barred, we immediately raised an action against the Local Authority in order to protect Joe’s position. The decision to do this was made on the basis that an incident must have been foreseeable given the nature of the bridge deck structure and its degradation over time.

Full investigations were carried out including the instruction of an engineer’s report and a full Freedom of Information request was made against the Council. The information was rather astonishing. What is showed was that the Council had a reactive system of inspection in place. Plainly put, they did not do anything unless there was a report of an incident or complaint logged.

Despite the evidence against them, the Council denied liability. Eight months after the action was raised in Court, the Defenders made an offer in the sum of £25,000 to settle the case and this was duly accepted.

Joe was pleasantly surprised at the value of his claim and was delighted to accept the offer. This case highlights the importance of being able to instruct your own choice of solicitor and not to be pressurised into using one that is allocated to you.

Local Authorities owe a reasonable duty of care to all road users and Cycle Law Scotland recognised the hazard this bridge, in particular, posed to cyclists.

Since Joe’s incident was reported to the Council, they made a temporary repair of the damaged slats.

Temporary bridge repair

Eventually, they did opt to re-deck the complete bridge surface so that the timber slats now sit perpendicular to the direction of travel to avoid such an incident occurring again.

New slats laid on bridge

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