Written by Peter CarterMay 20, 2022
Benjamin Reynolds was cycling a familiar route from Crown Casino at the end of his work day to his home in Richmond on a sunny January evening in 2017.
The Australian Open tennis tournament generated heavy traffic around Rod Laver Arena, through which he was required to navigate.Without warning, the car door of a stationary vehicle to his right opened into the bike lane causing him to collide into it and to be thrown from the bike, injuring his hands and breaking his left wrist.
The car door which struck the pasty chef’s bike had been opened by a passenger alighting from the rear seat of an Uber rideshare vehicle owned and driven by Anilkumar Patel.
Reynolds’ cyclist injury compensation lawsuit eventually came before the Victorian Supreme Court over two days in March, via Zoom.
The cyclist and the Uber passenger – Stanley Luna – were the only witnesses called.
“Pretty conscious” of the possibility of car doors being opened, it was Reynolds’ practice to be “looking in the side mirrors of cars” and to be prepared for any sign that there was a passenger about to alight.
He explained the collision – having had no time at all to brake or swerve – as if the events were captured in three separate ‘frames’. The first, when he looked down to see wheel was touching the inside of the door; the second when he was airborne over the top of the door; and the third when he saw he had landed on the roadway in front of the Uber.
Luna – on his way to his AO men’s final seat and carrying a knee injury – had been in the rear seat of the Uber car with the crutches he needed for walking.
He saw Patel “click off the ride” on his phone app and asked “Is this okay?” to which question there was no audible reply.
Unaware of any bike lane, he opened the door to get out. Had he been warned of its presence – he swore – he would not have done so.
Patel contended – through counsel – the journey to the Uber drop-off zone near the Arena was incomplete and there was no evidence he knew the passenger was proposing to exit the vehicle at the precise moment the trip had been ended on the app.
Maybe so, but – because driver Patel was not called to give evidence – Justice Andrea Tsalamandris noted she was entitled to draw an adverse inference that his testimony would not have assisted his defence.
The only circumstances in which a driver is responsible for a passenger’s actions – so Patel’s case ran – is where the driver is the parent of a child passenger.
Not so, ruled the court. “I consider the circumstances of this case an occasion where it would be incumbent upon the driver to say something to the departing passenger”.
There was a risk of injury to Mr Luna as he exited the vehicle on to a bike path and “to passers-by and cyclists such as Mr Reynolds”.
Justice Tsalamandris accepted Luna’s failure to look for cyclists was also a cause of the accident.
The driver though, also owed a duty to the passenger – and other road users – to warn Luna of the hazard of the bike lane and also to have activated his indicator signal or hazard lights to warn cyclists such as Reynolds of the passenger’s impending exit from the vehicle.
She rejected Patel’s submission that the cyclist was himself a contributor to the accident, concluding that “he should not bear any responsibility in respect of the accident”.
He was awarded damages which had been agreed between the parties.
Categories: Cyclist accident