Would strict liability reduce motoring personal injury claims?

Norman Baker, the minister responsible for cyclists and pedestrians, says he has decided not to implement a change in the law that could have protected vulnerable road users.

He says that there are many reasons why ‘strict liability’ saves lives and reduces the amount of personal injury claims, but implementing them in the UK would be unpopular with motorists. It is already common practice in many other European countries to have strict liability for people driving vehicles.

The strict liability law was first suggested in the UK in 2002 but the media quickly killed the change, saying it was anti-motoring.

In reality, the law is not targeting the motorist. It works on the basis of the strong should bend to the weak. In claims for personal injury compensation, strict liability puts the blame on the driver, not the injured party of an accident. A motorist who hits a cyclist will automatically be blamed unless he can prove that the cyclist was the negligent party. Likewise, if a cyclist hits a pedestrian, the cyclist will be automatically to blame unless he can prove the negligence of the pedestrian.

One European study has suggested that the fatality rate for cyclists aged between 10 and 14 years old is five times higher in the UK than in countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden that have strict liability laws.

Under UK law, personal injury solicitors, acting on behalf of the victim of a motoring incident, have to prove that the other party was negligent and yet the vulnerable victim is the one more likely to suffer injury.

Strict liability is used in some areas of English law, such as cases of personal injury at work and product liability. For the benefit of vulnerable road users, maybe Mr Baker should rethink his decision.

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