16-05-2012 Riders being denied justice says Motorcycle Action Group
The Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) has added it's voice to the outcry over the case of motorcyclist Robert Whiteford, who has been refused compensation after his right leg was amputated when a lorry cut across a bend near Ely in April 2009.
Initially, the County Court awarded damages amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds, after finding both sides shared responsibility as the lorry had been partly over the white line but the rider could have been closer to the kerb. However, Mr Whiteford's right to compensation was denied by the Court of Appeal last week (Wednesday 9 May 2012).
The bend was reportedly both narrow and difficult to see round, in which case slowing down further or sounding a warning would have reduced the risk of collision. Yet in a remarkable statement to the appeals court, Jonathan Watt-Pringle QC acting for the lorry's Lithuanian operator claimed the "only reason" for the collision was that the rider was near the centre of the road, rather than as the lower court had earlier found.
It flies in the face of common-sense and decency to deny Mr Whiteford any right to compensation - the rules of the road are clear: the lorry driver should not have crossed or straddled the road markings designed to separate traffic unless they could see the road ahead was clear and it was safe to do so.
Even more remarkable, one of the judges claimed that not to find in favour of the lorry operator would be to impose "an unacceptably high standard on the driver.” This begs the question; what standards of care and ability can we now expect from the drivers of large vehicles and from the companies that operate them?
MAG has written to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke MP saying it is a stain on the justice system when an injured person willing to accept some fault, has been forced by the Appeal Court to take all of the responsibility for the outcome of a collision.
MAG has also sought assurances that a ridiculous and dangerous precedent has not been set - the law must not demand that riders should always adopt a position in the centre of their lane. Drivers and riders must be allowed to choose the correct position on the road given the circumstances. The government has set-out a national standard for safe and responsible motorcycling - this requires riders to position themselves on bends according to circumstances such as adverse camber, banking, uneven or slippery surfaces, weather conditions, visibility, road junctions and other road users when deciding on the line to take and the speed at which it is possible to negotiate a bend safely.
The willingness of the Court of Appeal to relieve the lorry driver and operator of any responsibility, instead shifting blame entirely to a motorcyclist who was riding within the law, has added to the list of cases where MAG believes seriously or fatally injured riders have been sold short by the justice system. Other cases MAG has adopted as examples of cases where drivers have apparently escaped justice or received remarkably light sentences in aggravated circumstances - MAG member Jason Molyneux was killed by a lorry when its driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel then drove on after removing crash debris from under his vehicle. David Wilson-Jones, part of a MAG-affiliated motorcycle club, was killed by an uninsured driver who was overtaking at speed near the brow of a hill while testing a sports car.
MAG is concerned that the law may be structured and delivered in a way that may result in individuals being treated differently according to the kind of vehicle they use. Steven Baker MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary Group on Motorcycling and a member of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee has taken an interest in MAG's campaign to cast light on whether discrimination is embedded within the justice system.
For further information:
General Secretary, MAG(UK)