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Is not wearing a helmet when cycling negligent?

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It is common in personal injury claims for compensation for the Defendant to allege that the Claimant themselves have been contributorily negligent, asserting that the claimant is partly responsible for the accident which has caused the injury. There are a number of ways that a person could be contributorily negligent, one of which is not wearing a helmet while cycling, which we will explore here.

The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 states:

“Where any person suffers damage as the result partly of his own fault and partly of the fault of any other person or persons, a claim in respect of that damage shall not be defeated by reason of the fault of the person suffering the damage, but the damages recoverable in respect thereof shall be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable having regard to the Claimant’s share in the responsibility for the damage.”

What does this mean?

If you are in part to blame for any injuries or conditions as a result of an accident then you will not receive 100% of the damages. If the Claimant and Defendant do not agree on the attribution of blame, then a judge will assess the facts of the case and use set precendents from previous cases with similarities in order to make a decision on a reasonable deduction from your claim.

If you are found to be 25% responsible for an accident, then from the full value of your claim you recover 75%.

How is contributory negligence proven?

The Defendant is required to prove that the Claimant has been contributorily negligent. An example of this could be in the case of riding without a helmet.

Example:

A cyclist was riding sensibly on a cycle path, on a regular route, avoiding roads but not wearing a helmet. They have an accident as a result of a defective cycle path and end up with a head injury that has long-term symptoms.

If it had not been for the Defendants negligence in ensuring the cycle path was in a good state of repair, the accident would not have happened. But, the opposing argument is that if the Claimant had been wearing a helmet they would not have sustained such serious injuries.

In calculating any award for damages, the Judge will assess medical evidence to determine if wearing a helmet would have prevented injury or reduced the impacts of the injury – if the Court finds that wearing a helmet would have prevented the level of injury then the Claimant can expect to see their damages award reduced significantly.

The legal bit

Whilst wearing a helmet decreases the chances of serious injury significantly there is no legal requirement to wear a helmet, but the law has been developed to reflect that wearing a helmet does, in general, make a cyclist safer. Not wearing a helmet does give rise to the question of whether the cyclist was contributorily negligent and if deemed to be then it will impact on damages awarded by a court, resulting in a 15 to 66 percent deduction.

The law is unlikely to change in this respect – studies show that in countries where helmet wearing is enforced actually decreases the number of people cycling which is not a desirable outcome. Our advice is to always wear a helmet when cycling – no, it may not look cool, but should the worst happen it may just save you from long-lasting injuries.

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