I was pushed off my bike by someone opening a car door. I haven’t hurt myself but my bike is badly damaged. The driver says I was to blame because I was overtaking up the inside to gain access to the red box ASL. It’s going to cost nearly £1500 for a new front wheel, carbon forks and front mech. What can I do?
- This is a classic dilemma. It applies where cyclists have damaged expensive kit due either to other’s carelessness or defects in the highway and is an argument in favour of ensuring that you have wholly adequate cover for your bike on your home and contents policy (often a better option than a stand alone cycle policy). While appreciating that you may not want to claim on your own policy, there may not be any option, because this is what the judicial (court) system refers to as a ‘small claim’; see below:
How small is small?
- A personal injury claim where the value of the injury does not exceed £1000 is a small claim. The insurance industry would very much like to increase this to £2500 or £5000.
A non-injury claim (damaged bike) where the amount in dispute is less than £5000 is also a small claim.
How does that affect the claimant?
- The court will almost never award a claimant in a ‘small claim’ the costs of hiring a lawyer. At the £150+ per hour rate the lawyer has to charge to cover the firm’s overheads, the exercise can easily lose viability, because the costs incurred will erode the damages. Insurers know this very well and play on it.
What will the court award, as well as damages?
- The court fee that is paid when the process is begun, (up to £120), a small fixed amount to cover preparation of the papers by a lawyer (£**) and the cost of a medical report. It may also award some witness expenses.
Won’t the defence be in the same position?
- If you are claiming against someone who is insured, the insurance company already has a claims department set up so it may as well use it effectively for free. The insurer will have legal knowledge and the experience of court proceedings. So you will not know for certain if the information the insurer gives you is correct or biased.
Why can’t we say the claim is worth more than £1000/£5000?
- If the Judge thinks the claim has been overstated simply to justify retaining a lawyer not only will costs be disallowed but a penalty could be imposed.
If the insurer fields a legal representative, how will I cope at the hearing?
- Probably quite well; the District Judges really try to help litigants in person, but you’ll still have to take time off work (court hours 10.00 to 4.00) on probably two separate occasions. The first will be administrative, the second the hearing. And the court rules say a claim for a fixed amount (not injuries) has to be transferred to the court nearest the town where the defence representative has its office.