A family stroll along a coastal path took an unwanted turn this weekend, when a cyclist approached from behind, provided no warning of his presence and collided with our dog, who was quietly sniffing grass to the side of us. The pathway, edged one side by the beach and the other by a nature reserve, is a prime spot for dog walkers and families, as well as cyclists, who are all encouraged to share the path in a considerate way. Luckily despite a lot of squealing and the cyclist going over his handlebars, neither our dog or the cyclist were hurt.
What if the cyclist had been injured?
This area of law is notoriously difficult. Rule 56 of the Highway Code states
‘Do not let a dog out on the road on its own. Keep it on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or path shared with cyclists or horse riders’.
Whilst many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, others like this one, are not a legal requirement but they can be relied upon in civil proceedings. Dog owners are responsible for keeping their dogs under control but this does not mean they are obliged to keep them on a lead in public areas unless the areas is covered by a Public Spaces Protection Order. Nor are they categorically liable for accidents if their dog acts out of character.
Rule 63 of the Highway Code states
‘When riding in places where sharing with pedestrians, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles is permitted, take care when passing pedestrians and horse riders, especially children, older adults or disabled people. Slow down when necessary and let them know you are there; for example, by ringing your bell (it is recommended that a bell is fitted to your bike), or by calling out politely.’
It goes on to say
‘Do not pass pedestrians, horse riders or horse drawn vehicles closely or at high speed, particularly from behind.’
So who is to blame?
Dog owners are likely to be found liable only if it can be shown that their dog should have been restrained and/or the owner was aware their dog was likely to behave in a manner which would have caused the accident. Whilst my dog was off lead, he was walking quietly very close to me, and every time we became aware of cyclists approaching us, we quickly restrained him by his harness. However had he been running out of control across the shared pathway, into the path of cycles, or if he had history of chasing bikes or jumping up at cyclists, it would likely be considered that he was out of control on a shared path and as the owner, I should have been doing more to keep everyone safe.
If the cyclist had been injured in this case and pursued me for damages, if found liable as the dogs’ owner, it is likely there would be an amount of blame attributed to the cyclist as he gave no warning he was approaching from behind and attempted to pass my dog with little space between them, causing my dog to startle and move slightly to one side. With very little space between them, a collision was inevitable.
Thankfully no-one was injured but …
Thankfully no injuries were sustained in this incident and we all checked man and dog were okay, apologies given on both sides and we continued our Sunday afternoon activities. However, if either had been injured and required treatment, would a claim be possible?
One difficulty that can be faced if a cyclist is injured and believes the dog owner to be at fault, is that not all dog owners have third party liability insurance. If this is the case, it may be that a cyclists own cycle, car or household policy has public liability insurance with a reverse indemnity clause, which would pay out compensation awarded by a court if the owner fails to pay as there is no insurance in place and no funds or assets.
And if my dog had been injured, could I have pursued the cyclist – well yes, the cyclist could potentially have been liable for veterinary costs.
So, are shared pathways a good idea? I’ll be giving them a wide berth now!
How Major Trauma Group can help?
If you have been injured in a dog related incident, and would like a free no-obligation chat to determine whether you may have a claim, call us on 0330 311 2578, email email@example.com or access live chat on our website during office hours.