Wanstalls Solicitors

An interesting aspect of a bicycle claim

One of the things that I like about my job is that even after twenty years of representing clients as a personal injury solicitor, there are always new issues that arise that have not been encountered before.

This is a good example and relates to a claim that I am dealing with for a cyclist who was knocked off his bike by a motorist doing a U turn across his path.

Unfortunately my client suffered some very nasty injuries but it at first appeared that his bicycle had suffered little damage.

We had the bicycle inspected by a reputable local cycle shop in Durham and they identified some minor damage to the saddle and the tape on the handlebars.

What was interesting though was that as the bike had a carbon fibre frame, although there was no apparent damage, because it had been involved in an accident then the frame and forks should be replaced.

Apparently the nature of carbon fibre is such that when it has suffered a blow there may be no apparent damage but there may be internal damage to the structure of the carbon fibre which may cause it to fail at a later date. Bearing in mind that we are talking about the frame and forks of a bicycle if the structure were to collapse the consequences could be very serious.

Liability for the accident was accepted by the car driver’s insurers and we put forward details of the client’s damaged clothing and safety equipment as well as the cost of the repairs to the saddle and handlebars. In addition we also put forward the details of the cost of the replacement frame and forks together with the labour cost of transferring all the parts to the new frame and forks.

It should be pointed out that this was an expensive bicycle where the cost of the replacement frame and forks was nearly £2,000.

The initial response from the insurers was to agree to pay for all the other elements claimed but they refused to pay for the replacement frame and forks.

This left my client in a very difficult position in that he had a bicycle that looked OK but he knew there was a danger of the frame and/or forks collapsing at some point in the future so he did not dare to use the bicycle.

The argument put forward by the insurers was that they could not be expected to pay for damage that may have occurred only for damage that could be shown to have occurred.

I carried out some further investigations by speaking first of all to a very large national cycle shop who supplied bikes by this particular manufacturer.

The cycle shop were very helpful and confirmed that their advice would be exactly the same that where a carbon fibre framed bike had been involved in an accident then the frame and forks should be replaced.

The bicycle was manufactured by a company in Italy but the cycle shop put me in touch with the UK distributors of this make of bicycle.

I spoke to the UK distributors and again their advice was the same that the frame and forks should be replaced.

I also asked them if there were any tests that could be performed to see whether there was any unseen damage to the frame and/or forks. They told me that there were two ways of checking for unseen damage but neither investigation was a viable option. They could get the frame checked with ultrasound but this would cost a lot more than the price of a new frame. The alternative investigation would involve the total destruction of the frame and forks!

The distributers very kindly put their advice in writing so that I could forward this to the insurers.

It also occurred to me that although I had not come across this situation before with a bicycle there was a very similar and very common situation in motorcycle accidents.

In motorcycle accidents if there is any chance that the rider or passenger’s helmets have suffered a blow then they must be replaced even if there is no apparent damage. Crash helmets can also suffer from an unseen compromise to their structure which could cause them to be less effective if involved in another accident.

I have never had an insurer refuse to pay the cost of the replacement of a crash helmet as the problem with possible unseen damage is widely accepted.

I put all the information I had obtained from the cycle shop and UK distributers to the insurers. I also pointed out that I could see no difference between this case and the case of a crash helmet that had suffered a blow in an accident.

To the insurance companies credit they then accepted the claim for the replacement frame and forks and paid the cost of the replacement.

My client is of course very happy that he now has a bicycle that he can use. The definition of damages is to “put the person in the position they would have been in had the accident not occurred” so it is entirely correct that my client should be put back in the position of having a bicycle in the same useable condition as it was before the accident.

Encountering a new issue in a case is always interesting and despite having dealt with accident claims for well over 20 years there are still issues that arise that I have not encountered before. The way to deal with new issues is by investigation and drawing on knowledge of similar issues that have been encountered before.

Ian Wanstall – Contact me at ian.wanstall@wanstalls.co.uk

Wanstalls Solicitors are based in County Durham in the North East of England. We represent clients both locally and nationwide and offer a friendly personalised service. If you would like to discuss any aspect of a personal injury claim, we would be delighted to hear from you.

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