Canberra cyclist, David Blick, has this week been ordered to pay $1.66m in damages plus legal costs following a 2009 cycling incident which resulted in his friend, Michael Franklin, sustaining spinal injuries after being run over by a car. The pair had been cycling alongside each other in a bike lane when Blick hit a wooden tree stake and veered into Franklin, throwing him into the road.
The incident took place at rush hour on a slip lane in the Australian capital city. Court documents describe how Blick was riding alongside and partially ahead of Franklin when he clipped a 1.5 to 2-metre long wooden tree stake and swerved. The two collided and Franklin fell into the road.
Speaking to The Canberra Times, Franklin said:
"I don't have a strong memory of what happened next, other than the fact that a car ran over my back and seemed to spin me around to face the oncoming traffic."
He says Blick tried to stop oncoming traffic while another cyclist rushed to help. Franklin suffered serious fractures to his pelvis and spine, internal bleeding, grazes and bruising.
Franklin spent 28 days in hospital and had pins and screws put into his pelvis and the base of his spine. Blick visited him regularly.
Since then, Franklin has only been able to return to work part-time. The IT consultant is a contractor and says each time he has attempted to work longer hours, the pain has worsened. A physician who appeared during legal proceedings said that his disabilities were "quite significant" and "interfered with all aspects of domestic, social and recreational activities" although a neurologist called by the defence felt confident he could return to full-time work if he were able to use a standing work station.
Franklin initially pursued the driver of the vehicle which ran over him through a third party insurance claim. However, he was advised that this was unlikely to prove successful if it was shown the driver had not been negligent, so he instead sued Blick for negligence.
According to Justice John Burns:
"The defendant was aware that the plaintiff was riding his bicycle adjacent to the defendant, so that any loss of control of the defendant's bicycle presented a risk of injury to the plaintiff."
He then concluded:
"Bearing in mind the size of the piece of wood and the lighting in the area, I am satisfied that if the defendant had exercised reasonable care he would have seen and avoided the piece of wood."
Blick was ordered to pay Franklin damages of $1.66 million and pay his legal costs – the figure taking into account Franklin's loss of future earnings.
Roger Geffen, the campaigns and policy director at CTC, says that while cases such as this are highly unusual, it does underline how important it is for cyclists to be covered for the risk of causing injury to others:
“Normal cycling is not an especially high-risk activity, and cases like this are newsworthy exactly because they are extremely rare. However CTC would advise anyone who cycles regularly to make sure they are covered for the risks of causing serious injury to other road users, or damage to other vehicles. This is one of the benefits of joining an organisation like CTC – as well as being able to support our local and national campaigning to promote cycling and cyclists’ safety.”