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Policy statement

Newcastle High Court judgement against contributory negligence

This is a report of verdict of a trial, A (a child) vs Shorrock, at the High Court, Newcastle on 19th March 2001. Judge Brown QBD. Although the child cyclist lost the case on other grounds, the judge made it clear this his failure to wear a cycle helmet did not amount to contributory negligence.

A, aged 14 at the date of the accident, was injured whilst riding his brother's cycle, with which he was familiar, on his way from his home to his part time job as a paper delivery body at about 6am. He came out of a pedestrian shopping area, through one of three arches, across the pavement, and on to the road at a speed of approximately 10 to 15 mph into the path of S, a serving police officer, who was driving his camper van home from work after having completed a 12 hour shift.

Held, giving judgment for the defendant, that the cycle was so close to the camper van when it emerged on to the road that S had no opportunity to brake, steer or avoid an impact. S had been driving at a speed between 20 mph and 25 mph and the distance between the two vehicles was 20 feet. There was a defect in the steering of the camper van, although this had no relevance to the accident. There was no evidence that S was unduly tired after his shift or that his reactions were dulled by fatigue and, in any event, not even the most alert and quickest at reacting could have stopped in time. If the judge had found for A on liability, A would have been held 50 per cent to blame on the basis that he was familiar with the layout of the roads having followed that route for over a year, and he rode out on to the road without stopping at the kerb or checking to see if the road was clear. He would not however have found contributory negligence based upon A's failure to wear a safety helmet as there was no statutory requirement for him to do so, and he was not engaged in any particularly hazardous kind of driving during which it might be thought prudent to wear a helmet.

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