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Car Dooring; An Open and Shut Case12th September 2017 Personal Injury
I have experienced the 'that was close' myself on numerous occasions and I now have clients complaining in this way as they cycle about making their day to day journeys. I've had a client hit by an opening door from an HGV - he was knocked off his bike and onto spiked railings suffering very painful and shocking injuries. I've acted for a man knocked off his bike by an opening door and he then hit a tree. I have also acted for clients with some deep laceration wounds from typically upper arms being punctured by car doors opening.
Claims are reasonably straightforward, when dealing with liability at least, against the driver providing the cyclist's version of events is supported by witness evidence or even better dashcam footage.
But what about when a passenger opens the door?
There is conflicting case law on this point and you can expect a tussle with the insurer.I've had resistance from insurers arguing that the driver was not responsible for the actions of a passenger and that the passenger, who did not benefit from compulsory insurance, would need to be traced and sued.
But what about the situation where a child opens the door? The responsIble adult driver must be accountable. What about the taxi driver who stops in a position where their passenger can readily open their door onto a cycle lane? The taxi driver has a responsibility to stop in a safe place for his passengers to alight and retains responsibility until the passenger is clear of the taxi. And is a company responsible for the actions of a negligent passenger employed by them if they open the door in the course of their employment and cause injury? Arguably yes.
There are an incredible number of incidents but many will not ever be reported due to them being near misses. DOT statistics show that between 2011 and 2015 eight people were killed and 3108 injured in accidents involving vehicle doors being opened or closed 'negligently'.
So what can be done about it?
Nothing will ever remove the momentary lapse of concentration - which can be from cyclist or vehicle occupant. But more cyclists on the road bring with them a more regular reminder for vehicle occupants that cyclists may be passing by. Cyclists need to leave sufficient room when they pass vehicles and be alert to signs of movements from occupants that they may be about to alight. Perhaps Dutch Reach is the way forwards. Dutch Reach involves drivers being taught to open car doors with the hand furthest away from the door. I tried it. It was a bit awkward but it caused me to twist and have better vision and it stimulated a deeper engagement with what I was trying to do. So yes, I think it resulted in me paying more attention. I would support this being introduced as part of the driving test. And finally, raising awareness that there can be serious injuries caused from poor timing when you open a vehicle door as a cyclist approaches or passes and then also realising you may be subject to criminal charges and sued in the civil Courts too, whether driver or passenger.