Not wearing a helmet could be 'contributory negligence'
17.03.09 by Buffalo Bill
According to a judge, quoted in the Telegraph.
The ruling, by Mr Justice Griffith Williams, came in a case brought by 29-year-old Robert Smith who was knocked off his bike by a speeding motorcyclist in Brightlingsea, Essex in 2005. Mr Smith, who was not at fault, sustained a serious brain injury. But the judge ruled: “There can be no doubt that the failure to wear a helmet may expose the cyclist to risk of greater injury.” He added that, in some cases, “any injury sustained may be the cyclist’s own fault” and cyclists themselves could be held partly liable.
Although the speed of the collision meant the helmet made no difference to the eventual outcome of Mr Smith’s case, in which the motorcyclist was held fully liable, it is feared the ruling could open the door to attempts to reduce damages by insurers.
Martin Porter, a personal injury lawyer, said: “It is really very worrying. It is a retrograde step to blame innocent cyclists for not wearing a helmet. There is an interesting parallel between a cyclist not wearing a helmet and a pedestrian not wearing a helmet.
“By the same logic, pedestrians not wearing helmets are also at risk of contributing to their own injuries.”
The Cyclist’s Touring Club had this to say:
However it is alarming that the judge concluded that, in general, a cyclist’s decision not to wear a helmet may be regarded as “contributory negligence” (i.e. compensation for someone else’s negligence should be reduced on the basis that the cyclist was also partly to blame for their own injuries), in cases where the helmet would have made a difference. CTC will be seeking advice on the scope for contesting this finding, and the pros and cons of contesting this ruling or awaiting a different opportunity to do so.
The CTC also has more information on the cases for and against helmets here, which includes this
recent edition of the BMA’s publication the British Medical Journal included a paper by Australian-based statistician Dorothy Robinson, arguing that there is no evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of cycle helmets that there has been any benefit to public health.
Robinson reviewed data before and after helmet legislation in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and believes helmet laws discourage cycling and produce no obvious response in the number of head injuries. She says: “This contradiction may be due to risk compensation, incorrect helmet wearing, reduced safety in numbers (injury rates per cyclist are lower when more people cycle), or bias in case control studies.”
In 1995, when the debate about the use of helmets was beginning, Moving Target published an article entitled ‘Helmets cause death’. A totally absurd assertion, yet this conclusion was supported by the evidence from Western Australia, where helmets had been made compulsory. In the year following the enforcement of helmets, the number of cyclists went down, yet the number of fatal head injury stayed the same. So the rate at which cyclists were dying of head injuries went up.
So it’s worth noting that the simple act of putting a helmet on is not enough to guarantee greater safety for the wearer. I’ll say it again: the risk of collision is not lessened if you have a helmet on. Nor will a helmet prevent death. Emma Foa was wearing a helmet when she was run over and killed.
There is also some evidence that motorists drive closer to helmet-wearing cyclist, which is an unintended, and unfortunate, consequence of bicycle helmets. This is an example of risk compensation. Risk compensation occurs where safety measures are in place that make people feel that the risk of a collision is reduced, therefore it’s safe to go a bit faster, or closer, or pay less attention, thus subverting the extra level of safety.
Oh, and before you write in with stories of how a helmet saved your life, remember that these will be unscientific and anecdotal, ie not evidence of anything other than your own opinions.College of Emergency Medicine debate ends with call for compulsory helmets for child cyclists