In 2022, a cyclist was awarded TAC common law compensation after a rideshare driver was found to be negligent when his passenger opened a door into a bicycle lane, causing a collision which resulted in injury to the cyclist (“car dooring”).
You can read the Supreme Court of Victoria’s judgement in the case of Reynolds v Patel  VSC 211 here. (“Reynolds”).
Generally, in TAC claims, a person is found to be responsible for their own negligent actions/omissions. The case of Reynolds was unusual in that court proceedings were brought against the rideshare driver, Mr Patel. However, it was the action of his passenger Mr Luna, in opening the rear passenger door, which led to the collision between the cyclist, Mr Reynolds and Mr Patel’s vehicle.
TAC compensation for cyclists
In Victoria, if you are injured in a road accident, you can lodge a TAC claim for compensation.
This includes cyclists injured in accidents which involve a motor vehicle. Cyclists injured in Victoria are only covered by the TAC scheme in limited situations, including “car dooring” accidents.
An accepted TAC claim may entitle you to various benefits including:
Further information about cyclists’ entitlements to TAC benefits and lump compensation can be found in a series of articles we have written:
Background & evidence in this car dooring case
- Mr Reynolds was cycling in a designated bike lane along Olympic Boulevard Melbourne, during the Australian Open (the “Open”). He had finished work and was cycling a familiar route to his home in Richmond. Traffic was congested along Olympic Boulevard due to the Open, which he was required to navigate.
- A car in the adjacent lane was being driven by Mr Patel, a rideshare driver. Mr Patel’s vehicle was stationary in traffic.
- Mr Patel’s passenger, Mr Luna was on his way to the Open. Mr Luna was not from Melbourne and unfamiliar with the area.
- Mr Luna gave evidence that he asked Mr Patel “is this okay?”, referring to whether it was okay to open the door at that particular spot and that Mr Patel swiped the Uber application to end the trip. He did not receive any audible reply from Mr Patel and assumed that he was in an appropriate location to get out of the vehicle.
- Mr Patel’s vehicle was not in the designated drop-off zone for people attending the Open.
- Mr Luna opened the rear passenger door into the adjacent bicycle lane, blocking the path of Mr Reynolds.
- Mr Luna gave evidence that he did not check for other road users, including cyclists, prior to opening the door and was not aware of the bike lane immediately adjacent to the door.
- Mr Reynolds gave evidence that he did not recall whether Mr Patel’s vehicle had its indicators or hazard lights on. He had no warning of the door opening in front of him and was unable to avoid a collision.
- As a result of the collision, Mr Reynolds was thrown from his bike and suffered injuries to his left wrist and hands.
- Mr Luna gave evidence that he would not have exited the car if he had known that he was not in the designated drop-off area or it was unsafe to do so.
The issue(s) considered
The parties reached agreement about how much Mr Reynold’s claim for TAC compensation was worth, on the first day of the trial.
The key issues in dispute at trial were whether:
- Mr Patel owed a duty of care to Mr Reynolds and, if so, did he breach that duty; and
- Mr Reynolds contributed to the accident by travelling too fast in the circumstances (“contributory negligence”).
The Court’s decision
The Court made clear that a driver of a motor vehicle owes a duty of care to their passengers and other road users, including cyclists.
It also found that in appropriate circumstances, a driver’s duty of care might require a driver to warn their passengers of potential hazards to other road users, such as passing cyclists.
Unusually, Mr Patel was not called to give evidence at trial. The Court largely accepted the evidence of Mr Luna and Mr Reynolds. Because of this, the Court made a number of adverse factual findings against Mr Patel, including:
- Hearing Mr Luna’s question “is this okay?” and swiping the Uber application to end the trip inferred that he knew that the paid trip had ended and that Mr Luna would immediately exit the vehicle.
- He knew that he was not stopping in a designated drop-off/stopping zone.
- He was aware of the traffic conditions in the area surrounding his vehicle.
- He knew that his vehicle was adjacent to a bike path, and was aware of the presence of cyclists. He did not turn on his indicator or hazard lights.
In this case, the Court ultimately found that Mr Patel owed a duty of care to Mr Reynolds and that he breached that duty of care by:
- failing to warn Mr Luna against exiting the vehicle and advising him to check for passing cyclists; and
- failing to put his indicator and/or emergency lights on to warn other road users of Mr Luna’s impending exit from the vehicle.
While the Court accepted that Mr Luna’s failure to look for passing cyclists was a cause of the accident, it was not the sole cause. Mr Patel’s failure to warn Mr Luna of the dangers of passing cyclists and to engage warning lights amounted to negligence and was causative of Mr Reynolds injuries.
The Court also found no contributory negligence on the part of Mr Reynolds as there was no evidence that he was travelling at an unsafe speed immediately prior to the collision. It also accepted that Mr Reynolds had no warning that the door would be opened into his path and that the collision was unavoidable
The Court emphasised that proving negligence in a case like this is dependent on several factors, including the driver’s appreciation and knowledge of the surrounding circumstances at the time of the accident.
The outcome of the Reynolds case might have been different if Mr Patel had given evidence that he had advised Mr Luna to check for passing cyclists, or gave express instructions to Mr Luna not to exit the vehicle until they had arrived at the designated drop-off/parking zone.
Legislative change a positive for cyclists injured on Victorian roads
Shortly after the Reynolds case was decided, the law was changed to expand the common law rights of cyclists injured in car dooring accidents.
Prior to these changes, injured cyclists pursuing TAC common law compensation needed to prove that the owner and/or driver of a motor vehicle was at fault for the accident. This created significant issues for injured cyclists – as highlighted in the case of Reynolds. Injured cyclists were required to establish a connection between the acts and/or omissions of the driver and their passengers, which proved difficult, and depended on the facts of each case.
The TAC is now able to indemnify (insure) passengers for car dooring incidents, along with the owner and/or driver of a motor vehicle. However, injured cyclists must still prove the other thresholds required to access common law damages, such as whether they have sustained a ‘serious injury’ and whether the person who opened the door was at fault.
It is likely the legislative changes will assist cyclists injured in car dooring incidents to access TAC common law compensation.
The changes will apply for all transport accidents on or after 6 July 2022.
This case of Reynolds highlights that a driver’s duty of care, in appropriate circumstances, extends to the duty to warn of potential hazards to their passengers and other road users, such as cyclists.
The case and legislative changes also serve as an important reminder for drivers and their passengers to be vigilant on our roads and to be on the lookout for any potential hazards to other road users, including motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.