A number of recent articles have revived the discussion about making motor vehicle owners liable for personal injury compensation arising out of accidents involving ‘vulnerable road users’ such as bicyclists and pedestrians. Allistar Twigg, Sport Lawyer with Snedden Hall & Gallop, explains what this change could mean.
The proposed legislation
The proposed legislation would make the car owner automatically liable for injuries suffered by a bike rider that the car collides with. It would impose strict liability on the car owner for the actions of the driver. Where such a collision takes place, it would effectively reverse the onus of proof. A car owner may escape liability only if he can show that the cyclist acted in a way that was completely unforeseeable by the driver.
Such legislation is common throughout Europe, where bike riding is far more common and accepted.
The present system
All car owners in the ACT are currently required to have compulsory third party (CTP) personal injury insurance. In the event a driver causes injury to another as a result of his negligence, he is compulsorily insured. In addition, should a car v bike collision occur with an unidentified or unregistered vehicle, an injured cyclist may sue the Nominal Defendant (funded by levies on ACT CTP insurers, the ACT and Commonwealth Governments.)
Under the present system, unless the owner’s insurer agrees to settle the matter early, many claims are propelled into litigation, with all the attendant costs and uncertainty. A strict liability and reverse onus system would decrease litigation almost to zero. There would be little incentive for insurers, owners or drivers to defend a cyclist’s claim or to pursue or perpetuate any court action.
Who is usually at fault?
Recent studies indicate that in the vast majority of car v bike collisions, the motor vehicle is usually at fault — something like 80% of the time. So such a scheme would also have the benefit of focusing motorists’ minds on taking more care around cyclists.
As the most vulnerable of all wheeled road users, cyclists in Australia have traditionally received nowhere near the amount of consideration and empathy provided to cyclists in most other advanced countries. Many excuses are made, but the reality is that Australia’s motoring public has traditionally given short shrift to cyclists who dare to venture into the motorists’ domain. Things are changing, but not nearly quickly enough.
The scheme could save money
At worst, this scheme will be a cost shift towards those arguably most responsible for accidents involving cyclists. There could even be cost falls by virtue of a decrease in litigation and reduced medical treatment and associated costs to the state.
This remains with the ACT Assembly
The implementation of such a scheme was considered and recommended by the 2014 Inquiry into Vulnerable Road Users by the ACT Assembly’s Standing Committee on Planning, Environment and Territory and Municipal Services. The scheme was agreed to in principle by the ACT Government who said it would examine how such a scheme might work and assess its impact with a provisional date for response of March 2015. Nothing has yet emanated from the Government about this.
The writer has recently contacted the Attorney-General’s office to determine the present status. At the time of writing, no response had been received.
Can Snedden Hall & Gallop assist you?
At Snedden Hall & Gallop, we understand about cycling and how important it is for many people in the Canberra region. Please contact us for any cycling related personal injury matter and car v bike collisions by phone on (02) 6285 8000 or by email. You can see details of our compensation representation.