Cycling Accidents Liability in Europe, a comparison- Part Two
Friday 06 Jun 2014

In the second part of a two part article, Tim Beasley, Partner at Levenes Solicitors Birmingham Office reports on the recent PEOPIL conference.

On 23rd May 2014, I represented Levenes at the conference of the Pan European Organisation of Personal Injury Lawyers (PEOPIL) in Amsterdam which highlighted the difference in approach to cycling accidents in Europe. In the first part of this article I looked at the approach in the Netherlands and concluded that the Dutch have a social policy of making the vehicle insurer responsible for injuries.

This week, I look at the way in which the same issue is approached in France.

The starting point in France is quite similar to the UK. The person who causes the injury is liable. This should not be too surprising – after all the word “tort” itself is a French word and means “wrong”. However, in 1985, a law known as the Badinter law was enacted which has significantly improved things for people who are the victims of road accidents whether they are passengers, pedestrians or cyclists. The aim is to avoid endless discussions before the court as to who is responsible. This is done by providing that save in exceptional cases, the non-driver victim of a road accident is compensated in full for his bodily injuries. The driver of the car remains liable for his own default. Neither “force majeure” nor the actions of a third party give the driver any defence. The only exception appears to be where the victim deliberately incurred the harm. As in the Netherlands, this seems to be narrowly defined and would encompass perhaps a suicide attempt but not a lot else. The fault by the victim has to be inexcusable and the sole cause of the damage. The cases cited by the French lawyer who presented at the conference make it clear that the judges of France appear to be far more forgiving than their Anglo-Saxon brother judges.

French judges can reduce compensation due to the fault of the victim, but victims under 16 (compare this with Netherlands where it is 14), those over 70 or with greater than 80% permanent disability are entitled to FULL compensation.
Given the stated aim of the law is to avoid endless argument as to who is to blame, it would be interesting to find out whether average legal costs per case incurred in France is lower than in the UK. There is a huge drive by insurers in the UK to lobby for cost savings in our personal injury system. Perhaps the answer lies across the Channel and the North Sea. If they paid out in every single road accident case regardless of fault the emphasis could shift to assessing the injuries and losses and providing rehabilitation to put the victim’s life back together rather than running up costs arguing about liability.

One point that struck me as I came away from the conference was a statistic. In 2012 in London there were 14 fatal cycling accidents in London. The French must be doing something right – in that same period there were no fatal cycling accidents at all in Paris.

Tim Beasley

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