The morning of October 1st 2018 was just like any other morning for Douglas Robertson. He packed his bag, donned his jacket and readied his bike for another Winter’s day commute. Douglas was well versed with this routine, having made the same trip every working morning to the Ahlstrom Chirnside Ltd paper mill where he had worked for the past 32 years.
Douglas, an accomplished cyclist, was a member of the Berwick Wheelers Cycle Club. He cycled upwards of 7000 miles a year-racing, club rides, social rides, charity rides and everything in between. Douglas had done it all. With so many activities, hobbies and interests, Douglas led life to the full.
That all changed on 1st October when Douglas rode his Boardman Cyclocross bike West along the A6105 towards his workplace. Douglas was so familiar with the road that he knew there were two large potholes at the end of the bridge which he always avoided. He also knew there were two expansion joints towards the end of the bridge and, at the second one, his normal practice was to check over his shoulder for traffic before making his right turn into the paper mill.
The road was clear to make his move. He indicated right, taking his hand off the bar momentarily to signal his intention, then returning his right hand to the bar he made his manoeuvre to enter the mill.
Douglas crossed the central white line and was almost in the safety of the junction of the mill when it happened. That awful sound of metal on metal, as Douglas was catapulted from his bike. He was hit from behind by a Volkswagen Passat and lay injured on the roadway right outside his workplace.
Douglas was rushed to Borders General Hospital and then transferred to Edinburgh due to the severe nature of his spinal injuries. He suffered a burst fracture to his spine which had to be fixed with screws and rods that would remain in place to support his spine.
After his discharge from hospital, Douglas came to us for help. In the early stages of his recovery, he was severely incapacitated. His mobility was restricted and so we went to him at his home in Chirnside. We took extensive details of the accident circumstances, his cycling experience, his injuries and his employment history.
Douglas had been a key member of the Ahlstrom Chirnside Ltd paper mill team for over three decades at the time of the accident. There were doubts he would be able to return to his employment, such were the extent of his injuries.
Douglas’ claim was intimated to the insurer of the VW Passat and primary liability was admitted at an early stage. The insurer worked with us to fund rehabilitation for Douglas through the appointment of a dedicated Case Manager who could assist with co-ordinating his care and recovery.
Of course, Douglas threw himself into his recovery, dedicating every moment to getting better both physically and mentally. The determination he had to get back to the active life he had led was remarkable, but despite his best efforts and the efforts of his medical team, it became clear the injuries would be life-changing.
The insurers attempted to buy off the case at an early stage offering a substantial amount of money before we could understand the full extent of the injuries and what impact they would have on Douglas. We rightly refused the early settlement offer and raised the case in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court in December 2020. We instructed Counsel to work with us in preparing Douglas’ case for litigation. Despite what many may think, raising an action in Court doesn’t mean that the case will proceed to a final hearing. Raising a Court action is often the best way for a case to settle. It removes the insurer from negotiations, as they instruct their own lawyers to deal with the matter for them.
Douglas’ case proceeded to a late stage in the Court Process and, with around 4 weeks to go before the final hearing, his case was settled at the Pre-Trial meeting. By that stage, we knew the full impact of the injuries and knew that Douglas would never return to work. The settlement figure was substantial, but money never truly compensates for a lost lifestyle, particularly for those who have been so active prior to the accident.
Douglas was a man who could cycle for hours, cover thousands of miles annually and turn his had to every cycling discipline. Now, he was reduced to simply looking at the bikes he had once ridden, staring back at him. As a result of the accident, Douglas could not return cycling in the same way he once did. His enjoyment of cycling was no longer the same as he was reduced to short rides because of back pain.
This is the cold reality of a compensation claim. It’s not a ‘win’ at all and it’s often never a reward, as we can’t turn the clock back. In truth, compensation payments are a crude attempt to put an injured person back into the position they were before the accident.
So many times, our clients’ one wish is simple - that their incident had never happened. We understand that and, as cyclists, we are able to fully appreciate the sense of loss. We will always bring to the attention of the insurer, defender or the Court, the importance that cycling has to our client’s lifestyle. We understand the pain and anguish it causes when a cyclist can’t get back to where they were.
Our case preparation will always include a lifestyle profile, pre and post-accident, so that the Courts can better understand the true impact and reflect that in any award of damages. Because we cycle, we understand. We understand the feeling when a substantial award of damages is agreed and it’s not always a euphoric moment. Settlement can be tinged with sadness for a lost way of life that no amount of money can make up for.
Douglas is a remarkable man and remains so. He is back cycling, perhaps not to the same extent but he is now able to enjoy the shorter rides and remains thankful he can still do that. He has financial security that opens up a future for him and he has closure.
Upon conclusion of his case, Douglas made the following comment:
"Cycle Law Scotland has been very supportive of myself and my case. I am very thankful to Brenda and the team for everything that they have done for me. The team are extremely thorough and professional in their handling of their clients and showed genuine care and interest in helping me with my case and recovery."