$1.6 million awarded to rider who sued another rider after crash

Imagine this scenario. You’re riding down the street on a group ride. You turn to chat to the guy next to you and as you do you front wheel rubs the rear wheel of the guy ahead of you.

You go down, the guy next to you falls, and there’s an almighty pile up behind to boot, that grim, grisly sound of carbon and metal keranging onto tarmac, informed by the dull thud of fresh flesh smacking down and slipping all over the road.

Apologies done – and gingerly accepted – you limp home feeling a proper lemon, embarrassed and guilty at the mess caused by that moment’s inattention.

A week passes, two, the road rash diminishes, the new bar tape helps wipe away the shame and you’re back in the fold.

Then one day you get an envelope, sent from a solicitor. Inside is a letter informing you that you damn well better get some representation quick, because Jack Smith is suing your lycra-clad backside for a busted 50mm front rim and a fractured tibia that might mean he’ll never ride again.

Your fault? Well maybe the crash was, and yes, you said as much in front of 20 folks. But do you deserve to be sued for it?

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News broke Saturday reporting that a Canberra cyclist has been awarded a AUS$1.66 million award in his case against fellow cyclist David Blick after a judge ruled against Blick.

Michael Franklin’s contention was that Blick had been negligent when he swerved to avoid a branch that was in his path. Blick is said to have tried to veer away from the ‘wooden obstacle’ but clipped it, then bumped Franklin, sending him into the oncoming traffic.

Franklin suffered spinal injuries as a result of the accident, which occurred in 2009, and is said to be still suffering from problems as a result of the incident.

The judge declared Blick as ‘negligent’.

“Bearing in mind the size of the piece of wood and the lighting in the area,” the judge said, “I am satisfied that if the defendant had exercised reasonable care he would have seen and avoided the piece of wood.”

Reports state that Franklin had considered trying to get compensation from the driver of the vehicle he hit, but that his counsel warned him against it as the driver could not be shown to have been negligent.

Mr. Franklin then, it appears, turned his lawyer’s attention towards Mr. Blick.

Blick was insured so all costs have been covered by his insurer.

Blick and Franklin were reported to be friends before the incident, but whether they remain close is unconfirmed. Possibly, knowing he was insured and it would not cost him personally, Mr Blick holds no hard feeling at all towards Mr. Franklin.

However, this case does raise some serious questions, one of which is, is it safe to ride in group rides and in races? Another would be, is it safe to head out without some serious heavy duty insurance?

Also, the Franklin case sees the setting of a precedent, one that could lead to the bankrupting of people less well insured than Mr. Blick.

Another case, again from Australia, is still in motion and very similar to the Franklin case. Olympic champion Sara Carrigan is being sued now for $750,000 for an accident that happened on one of her bunch rides.

Bernie Elsey Jr, the son of property developer Bernie Elsey, put in a claim for personal injury damages against Sara Carrigan Cycling and another cyclist Stephen John Milligan, as reported in the Gold Coast Bulletin.

The incident happened in May last year. Elsey Jr claims that Milligan’s riding ability was not up to scratch and that he was “not satisfactorily equipped to ride in the group ride that day.”

After the accident, Elsey was treated in hospital for a complex left fractured femur and had a steel rod and screws permanently placed in his leg.

“I’m just trying to get back some quality of life,” he said, citing the loss of his house as being a direct consequence of the accident.

In both cases any right-thinking individual would feel for the two men injured in these accidents – but do we not, as cyclists, have to bear the responsibility of what happens to us out on the roads?

If there was to be a claim every time someone broke a carbon rim, cracked a frame or broke a collar bone in bike racing then no one would be racing. Imagine the professionals taking one another to court and watching videotape of a crash in the Tour to work out just who touched what wheel or dodged a bump but didn’t warn the guy behind.

It’s not that I am saying cyclists should be exempt from the ‘rules of the road’ – if I was to go off the pavement and onto the sidewalk and hit a pedestrian then yes, I should be liable. But when it comes down to one rider suing another because one dodged a bit of wood? Or one slammed into the back of another and is claiming it’s because he braked too hard? That kind of stuff happens all the time. There is a responsibility issue here – we all know this when we decide to join a group ride.

Should Sara Carrigan be at risk of losing her quality of life because Mr Elsey Jr had an accident? And should Stephen Milligan also be criminalised for an accident that he may or may not have caused?

Show me any experienced ride that has ridden a bike in a group or in a race that hasn’t lost focus or concentration or been in forced into a dangerous line by the movement of the pack – and that hasn’t caused a single accident (or almost caused one, because often it is the skill of others around us that makes the difference) – and I’ll eat that hat of mine.

To be punished in this way for the random series of events that leads to a crash seems to me to be simply unjust and unfair.

I’d rather every sale of a bicycle sees $5 go to a nation-wide fund to be used just for such situations as these, let us all pay – and let us all benefit, when and if the time comes and that becomes a necessity.

One other point to consider is that many people would be put off biking if they had to have insurance just to go for a weekend ride with a mate. Also, many people cycle because they cannot afford a car nor the insurance costs that go with it.

I know of one Asian national cycling federation that is at risk of folding because one rider died after suffering heat stroke and collapsing, hitting his head on the pavement, at one of their organised sportifs. Despite the fact the he had signed a waiver, his family is suing for millions and, apparently they have a chance.

How? I do not know and I do not understand. Surely this man, this unfortunate guy, knew himself the risks involved. What is now at stake is the disbandment of a very good federation that is truly trying to instil a responsible cycling culture among local cyclists.

It’s a tricky one this. You feel for the families and for the guys that get injured, but, something in me just says this is wrong. Be very interested to hear your views.

9 comments

  1. OnYourBikeToo

    you’re being a bit too ‘Journo’ and bending things a little to garner a reaction (‘duh yeah’ I hear you think 🙂 The first case wasn’t a group ride it was just 1 commuter following another. Com 1 serves, clips 2, who falls into road and gets his back run over by a car. Sue car driver (insured) judge says sue cause who is also insured by virtue of membership to state cycling asso. If 1 car hits another and motorbike comes down and rider gets back run over then same would happen so yes, join your local cycling asso and get insured.
    Case 2 needs a little light as well.. it was a group ride organised and run professionally for a fee and advertised and sold as a educational by a profit based company. 1 client thought another client was a muppet and should not have been allowed in and the court will now look at it. Based on a commercial enterprise suitable insurance should also be in place.
    Case 3, fully agree with you.. but maybe … the Fed organised a 160km competitive ride in 38 deg direct sunlight and supplied no chance to get water ? I know an organisation in Asia who organised (and charged for) a race with a 151km stage in 40+ deg heat and and 95% humidity in Cat C and put 2 tables of water road side at 50 and 100km where you and approx 130 others could stop, hand over your bidon, have the lid removed, have water poured in and passed back to you before proceeding on your merry ‘race’ way … if my daughter had been in the breakaway and not stopped and died after crossing the line I know who I would be going after big time !

  2. Johnny Rocket

    Unfortunately this just shows the type of people now riding bikes. They are not ‘cyclists’. They haven’t come through a club system, they haven’t done the chain-gangs and been taught how to ride by an old guy with frame pump and mudguards, they are not racers and haven’t done the miles anywhere else apart from on the back of a big group, they haven’t ridden a steel, titanium or aluminium frame.
    They can’t change a tube or tune their own gears, they believe the aero marketing, they buy a bike weighing 7kg but weigh 100 themselves and can’t lube the chain. They ride to the café on their Lightweights. They can’t do the quick release themselves. They quote ‘the rules’. They spend more time looking at their Garmin & SRM than the road & scenery. They have never ridden a cyclo-cross or mountain bike. They insist on getting free kit from a shop when they buy a bike and want free stuff because they’re ‘Pro’. They don’t know why tubular tyres exist. They have never heard of the ‘Badger’, ‘Professor’, ‘Eagle of Toledo’, ‘Cannibal’. They don’t know about 8 seconds, Festina, suplesse, Casartelli. They think the bike Big Mig won his tours on REALLY was a Pinarello & Boonen the 2007 Green Jersey was REALLY an S-Works. They think Lance started riding in 1999 and think 4 years of café runs makes them an ‘accomplished rider’. They quote helmet research is nonsense but buy a bike saving them 0.005 seconds through a corner. They can’t corner or ride in a crosswind, they can’t figure out how to go through & off, drop the wheel……
    Now they ignore waivers and sue everyone else who happens to be sharing the road with them. If they weren’t on a bike they’d be driving their Audi giving everyone else the finger.
    These people are not cyclists. They are not even bike riders. It’s not inside their heart. They turned up at a party because they work in the same office as one of the other guests. They shouldn’t be riding a bike at all. Go back to the golf course or share the road.
    This is how cycling is. Very sad.

  3. Jim

    I’m left wondering why so many seem to lack taking responsibility for their own actions. I doubt any of these people involved in were coerced or forced to participate. I certainly don’t take part in a group ride thinking everyone participating is looking out for each other. I take responsibility for keeping myself safe as well as those around me. Cycling has inherent dangers and serious injury or death can be the result of one unfortunate patch of gravel – we’ve all seen such accidents. I’ve been in quite a few scrapes and crashes myself racing, due to others taking risk or not being as “good” as they think they were. In the larger mass pile-ups I have no idea who was at fault and to me it didn’t matter. I assumed the risk when I started the race or ride.

    As far as the commuter situation, I would imagine it would be difficult to explain why the person injured was riding to close to the other rider.

    • crankpunk

      have to say i agree Jim. if a car hit me then yes, i would be suing. but if i was injured in a race or on a group ride and there was no malicious intent, i think i wouldn’t. hard to say of course as i’ve never been in that situation but that’s my gut feeling.

  4. Pingback: Cyclelicious » South County Riding
  5. Barber

    Thanks Crankpunk. Stuff like this deserves wide coverage.

    How could the unfortunate Mr. Franklin have been forced into traffic if he wasn’t over lapped with the swerving Mr. Blick? If he was overlapped, shouldn’t he take personal responsability for looking ahead at potential hazards that would force Blick to adjust his path?

    It appears Mr Blick – or his insurance company – failed to retain good representation.

  6. ejemail

    I agree with Barber. When you ride in a group, you take a certain responsibility on yourself. If you do not want to risk being crashed out by the guy in front of you, then you ride at the front. period.

  7. John Velez

    I had a accident in a group ride that was supposed to be experienced. we were all doing a double paceline, I ended up on the ground with a broken wrist after running into the rider in front of me. that was not including the damage to my bike. I done this hundreds of times, I went over the crash over and over and over and told myself how the hell did I run into the guys back wheel. as I was laying on the ground in pain with broken wrist the guy in front of me I apologized and told me he got nervous and put the brake on. after I heard this I was extremely frustrated and so disappointed. the guy was very apologetic and sorry I spent 6 weeks in a cast and out of work. he gave me his number and told me to call him and let him know how I was doing. I was so mad at this time I couldn’t even talk to the guy. could I have sued this person ? yes I could have but all I asked was for my out of pocket from my insurance which was $200 for the emergency room and this guy totally ignored me never called me back or did anything about it. I sued him in court and got $400,000. should had this been the right thing to do ? I say yes but this is not what happened. I sucked it all up took the backhanded slap in the face and went on with my life. this was a bad choice for me. I learned a good lesson don’t ride with strangers ride with people you know and you might not have an accident.

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