The widow of a cyclist who was killed in a collision involving a bin lorry driver has said that the council’s response to the fatal crash – which she claims saw her family treated with “absolute defiance” and told that her husband was “100 percent to blame” for his own death – “fired” her up to build a legal case which last month led to the family being awarded over £500,000 in compensation.
Katrina Ronald, speaking for the first time since the conclusion of the four-year dispute with Perth and Kinross Council, told STV News that she believes that the local authority “would have done more if their lorry killed a dog instead of my husband”.
Her husband, William Ronald, a 46-year-old RAF veteran who had served in Afghanistan, was riding his bike near the village of Cleish, Kinross-shire, on 25 May 2018, when he was struck on a blind bend by the driver of a refuse truck belonging to the council. He was trapped under the vehicle and, despite the efforts of medical staff, died at the scene.
The collision was investigated by police, though prosecutors ruled out any criminal action against the council or the lorry driver, and council employee, Jordan Paterson, a decision which Mrs Ronald says resulted in a “wall of silence” from officials.
“I felt like everyone was saying William, someone who devoted his life to his country, didn’t matter,” she said.
“With no prosecution the council dug their heels in, treated us with absolute defiance and basically said ‘Your husband is 100 percent to blame, so go away’.
“Councils, police, and fiscals… all the communication dried up. They reached their own conclusions and that was that. It made me sick with anger but instead of feeling brow-beaten and rejected it actually fired me up more.”
A year after the fatal collision, she decided to take legal action against Perth and Kinross Council, which she believed, due to the actions of their employee, was responsible for her husband’s death. However, negotiations with the local authority broke down after the council’s insurance company failed to attend a scheduled meeting, and the civil action was escalated to a trial at Edinburgh’s Court of Session, the highest civil court in Scotland.
Last month, we reported that jurors at the Court of Session concluded that Mrs Ronald should receive £1,319,750 from the council in compensation, and that her daughter should be awarded £95,000. Two other members of the family were also awarded £67,500 each in damages.
However, the jury also concluded that Mr Ronald had acted negligently at the time of the fatal crash by riding “too fast” (data from his bike computer showed that he was riding at 16mph in the moments before the collision), and assessed that he was 58 percent responsible for the incident, with the bin lorry driver receiving 42 percent of the blame due to his positioning on the road. That decision meant that Mrs Ronald’s compensation was reduced by 58 percent, to just over £554,000.
“The bicycle was going too fast,” Perth and Kinross Council’s advocate, Ranald Macpherson, argued at the trial. “Mr Paterson was driving at an appropriate speed. There was nothing more he could have done.
“This was a terrible accident which had tragic consequences. However, it was not an accident which was caused by Mr Paterson.”
Mrs Ronald, however, believes that the jury’s ruling that the lorry driver was also responsible for the fatal collision has “proved the council was wrong”, and that she hopes her victory will inspire other families in similar situations to keep fighting for answers.
“I honestly couldn’t care less about compensation as I have my own means to live – I raised a legal action to get answers,” she said.
“I could not accept that someone would lay 100 percent of the blame at William’s feet, so for me the court case was not about proving William was right, but about proving the council was wrong. And we did that. We now have a black and white ruling to prove the council was wrong in their argument and I feel vindicated for that.”
Mrs Ronald also criticised what she describes as the council’s “inhuman” actions following her husband’s death, and their dismissive attitude towards vulnerable road users.
“Bigger picture though, Perth and Kinross Council need to take a long, hard look at themselves and their policies around dealing with bereaved families because the way they treated us was frankly inhuman and is actually what sparked this whole process,” she added.
“I honestly think the council would have done more if their lorry killed a dog instead of my husband.
“From day one they didn’t show a thread of empathy, but I wasn’t going to just meekly bow down because me, the girls and William deserved better. My youngest daughter, who was seven years old when her dad died, wanted to know the specifics of how he died. I didn’t want to be in a position where my only answer is ‘I don’t know’ and I certainly didn’t want to be in a position where I had to tell her ‘Well, I could have tried to get answers but I didn’t try’.
“To anyone else out there who has lost someone or is caught up in these kinds of cases – keep going. Ignore the naysayers. Ignore every wee thought that tells you it’s too hard or it’s not worth it because it is.
“Take whatever pain and anger you have and use it to motivate you and sharpen your thinking. You’ll get the truth and answers you need. You’ll get your justice.”
Innes Laing, partner at Digby Brown Solicitors in Kirkcaldy who led the legal action on behalf of the Ronald family, also told STV News: “Civil trials are extremely rare as most cases are settled out of court via negotiations – I think less than two percent of personal injury actions actually end up in front of a sheriff or judge.
“I’m genuinely moved by the sustained drive, strength, dignity and patience shown by Katrina and her children because it’s not easy to hold fast for so long.
“Katrina is also completely right – all bereaved families deserve answers and empathy and I hope others out there, from victims to responsible third parties, take note of the lessons from this rare but extremely important legal action.”
A Perth and Kinross Council spokesperson said: “We are very aware of how difficult the loss of Mr Ronald has been for his family. The civil case brought against the council was dealt with by our insurers and we note the verdict of the jury. Our thoughts continue to be with Mrs Ronald and her family.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.