Unsuitable motorbike kit results in reduced compensation award

Apart from the compulsory crash helmet, there is no law in the UK that motorcyclists have to wear appropriate protective equipment.  Legally, you can ride in a helmet, G-string and nipple caps if it pleases you.  Most riders (ladies especially) would agree that to do so would be foolish in the extreme.  Reasonable protective clothing is a must, but this raises an interesting argument about just when enough is not enough.  I acted for the pillion passenger who was thrown off his mate’s bike and injured when a car turned right directly in front of them.  The rider was not going too fast; he was properly positioned; he had his headlight on; and he was wearing a sturdy and highly coloured jacket.  The pillion’s claim was, quite understandably, brought against the car driver, who admitted he had not seen the oncoming bike.

Unfortunately for my client, it had been a beautiful summer’s day and he hadn’t planned on getting a lift- it was a last-minute snap decision.  Consequently, he was wearing jeans, flip-flops and a white singlet.  He sustained very serious and deeply unpleasant abrasion injury to his back, a white singlet being no match for being thrown down gravelled highway at 50mph.  After extensive and very painful plastic surgery, he was left with a back which resembled a Belgian waffle- a highly significant and permanent degree of scarring, which made him extremely self-conscious and led to him developing quite severe psychiatric problems.

The car driver’s insurers mounted a spirited argument that my client should have his compensation drastically reduced (they argued for a drop of 75%) because the clothing he was wearing was grossly inadequate for going on the back of any bike.  Had he been wearing something a bit more sturdy, his injuries would have been reduced, or might even have been avoided altogether. Even if the accident had been minor in itself, they said, he would still have sustained disproportionate injury because of his unsuitable clothing.

Our argument was that there was no law about compulsory minimum motorcycle clothing; our man was entitled to wear what he liked; and if the car driver had paid proper attention, the nature of his clothing would not have mattered one jot.

The problem we faced was that regardless of actual law, there was the matter of common-sense.  There was no escaping the fact that no sensible person would travel on a motorcycle without at least the minimum of protective clothing, sufficient to provide some layer of fabric between the majority of the body and the cold, hard roadway.  The risk of an accident was always present, and that risk should have been in our man’s mind when he agreed to accept a lift.  Had he been sensible, he would have declined, knowing his clothing was completely inadequate; had he worn something more sturdy, he would have avoided such serious injuries.

We eventually settled the case on the basis of 40% reduction for partial blame.  It was quite likely that a judge would have reduced his compensation by at least that much and perhaps more.

There is still no legal minimum standard of motorcycle dress- but simple self-preservation should make sure a sensible degree of protection is worn, no matter how hot or uncomfortable it can be in high summer.

Unsuitable motorbike kit results in reduced compensation award