03 February 2010

Strict Liability

A great little infofilm about the concept of Strict Liability, which is the norm in Denmark and The Netherlands, among other European countries. It was uploaded by Carlton Reid from Quickrelease.tv and I Pay Road Tax.com

With Strict Liability, it's always the motorist at fault when they collide with vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists.

In the film, Hans Voerknecht, international coordinator of the Dutch Fietsberaad explains how this works in practice.

Basically, cars kill. Those who drive cars and kill or injure people are liable, simply because of the responsibility involved in operating a 2000 kg machine.

- The UK is only one of four Western European countries that doesnt have 'strict liability' to protect cyclists and pedestrians.
- Strict liability entitles a crash victim to compensation unless the driver can prove the cyclist or pedestrian was at fault.
- Strict liability encourages more careful driving (and cycling, because a cyclist would be deemed to be at fault for crashing into a pedestrian).
- Strict liability would be a matter of civil rather than criminal law so would not affect criminal prosecutions.


Henrik B. said...

Denmark doesn't quite have 'strict liability' in the sense you presents it here.

First it is necessary to separate liability in liability in regards to the Danish Traffic Law (da.: 'Færdselsloven') and liability in damages (in regards to the insurance companies).

The classic example from liability courses is a car going the right way in a one way street, hitting a bicyclist going the wrong way. Because there is a requirement for liability insurance (da.: 'ansvarsforsikring') for automotive owners, the insurance companies will always draw upon that and thus making the automotive owner liable.

However the bicyclist may be deemed liable by the Danish legal system and the automotive driver be free of charges. In that case the automotive owners car insurance company may seek reimbursement (da.: regres) from the bicyclist.

BicyclesOnly said...

Great post. Here's a discussion of how strict liability principles have been applied to injuries from product use in the U.S., and how they should be extended to the roadway:


Kevin Love said...

Ontario calls it "reverse onus." Here is the law, from Section 193 of The Highway Traffic Act:

"When loss or damage is sustained by any person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle."


didrik said...

Here in California we have "zero liability" if you're in a car law.

ZA said...

Request: link to article or case of bicycling commuters working together against a law-breaking cyclist in favor of the motorist.

I'm arguing with a relative who can't imagine this could ever be the case with this sort of 'strict liability.' Thank you!

Andy B from Jersey said...

I don't know if I like that and I can't believe it is true. In the US it would give cyclists free reign to act more like idiots then they do now (I ride daily and most other I see do ride like idiots!). Plus, people here love to sue.

I think it may be much more preferable to make driver liable when it can not be determined who was at fault. Otherwise, if a cyclist makes an illegal turn, goes through a red light or otherwise does not yield the right of way when an automobile has the right of way, then the cyclist has got to be liable.

lagatta à montréal said...

Andy, this would not give errant cyclists a freer rein, as they would be liable if they injure a more vulnerable person, usually a pedestrian.

It would take a lot more than this to change US "suage" culture. A cap on payments? This is specifically US; even in English-speaking Canada (to say nothing of Québec which uses a modified form of French civil code) there is nothing comparable.

In Netherlands (my experience with Denmark is too brief) when you approach a crosswalk, drivers just stop. You could be distracted or even stinking drunk: they just stop. This means a lot fewer accidents.

Nobody should be murdered by several tonnes of polluting plastic and steel because they failed to yield.

I see cycling idiots too - and driving, and pedestrian idiots, even idiots in wheelchairs - but I'm suspicious of anyone thinking "most other cyclists" are idiots.

hamish wilson said...

The differences between liability in parts of Europe and North Americar are major, and yet when occasionally we read about bringing new Eurostyle things here - like "naked streets" - the paid media can't think beyond their advertising/windshields.
It's actually pretty horrific here at times - there was a very ugly killing of a cyclist along Bloor St. last year for placing himself ahead of a motor vehicle it seems...
keywords Bryant/Sheppard

Urbanplannercyclisthousebuilderetc... said...

What a cold prick...

Andy B from Jersey said...

lagatta à montréal,

Murder and liability are two different things and I still don't like Strict Liability as defined here.

I'm very familiar with the concept of Strict Liability but feel that if it is undeniable that the driver was driving cautiously, within all due reason, the pedestrian or cyclist was reckless in their behavior and there are witnesses or video to corroborate the actual happenings then I DO NOT feel it is just to hold a driver of a motor vehicle liable.

Also this would NEVER fly in the US at least as demonstrated in this video.

Still, I also feel it is completely unacceptable when a driver kill cyclists during overtaking and then give the lame excuse, "he swerved into my lane." That is an example where I believe some form of Strict Liability is definitely warranted.

Alexei said...

Re: the pedestrian or cyclist was reckless in their behavior and there are witnesses or video to corroborate the actual happenings then I DO NOT feel it is just to hold a driver of a motor vehicle liable.

I don't think this proposal would hold the driver liable. It's just that it's on the driver to show that the cyclist was being reckless, rather than it being assumed.

christhebull said...

I think the caveat "unless the cyclist / pedestrian was acting recklessly" is needed. Else pedestrians would walk straight from behind parked cars into my bike, although that happens sometimes anyway.

Otherwise, a good idea, although the Daily Wail will think that the idea that drivers are presumed to be liable is a good excuse to complain about the "lycra louts" who don't signal, mount the pavement, and ignore turn restrictions; because (sarcasm) car drivers never do those things...

Branko Collin said...

I believe the whole idea behind strict liability is the recognition that there will be both drivers and cyclists who act stupidly; but that the cyclists tend to pay the dearer prices.

In other words, the assumption that cyclists will act stupidly is the raison d'être of strict liability.