A cyclist left facing a lifetime in a wheelchair after a road accident was today cleared of any blame for his injuries, paving the way for a multi-million pound damages payout.
Alexander Kotula, 27, of Norris Close, London Colney, Hertfordshire, fell into barriers around electrical works in Park Street, St Albans, and was hit by a passing lorry.
The police constable brought a claim for damages against the companies responsible for the roadworks and was today told by a judge at London’s High Court that he would get 100 percent of the assessed damages.
During the hearing, EDF Energy Networks Plc and its contractors, Morrison Utility Services Ltd and Birch Utilities Ltd, admitted that their failure to maintain a metre-wide pedestrian passage meant they were in breach of duty.
But they argued that the damages to which Mr Kotula is entitled should be limited, claiming that he had either negligently cycled on the pavement and through the street works system, or carelessly walked through it. Mr Kotula cannot remember exactly what happened because he suffered post traumatic amnesia
Today, Judge Simon Brown QC ruled in favour of the cyclist, heaping all of the blame for his injuries on the three companies. “The defendants were wholly responsible for this accident in laying out a very hazardous multi-layered trap of a narrow path on a curve with a kerb across it,” he said.
The judge said the roadworks were beside a very busy road, with no warnings and no safety zone between the barrier in the road and passing lorries. He considered it likely that Mr Kotula had dismounted by the time of his fall, as it would have taken an “extraordinarily skilled” cyclist to safely cycle through.
However, he said it would have been a “reasonable decision” for Mr Kotula to cycle on the pavement due to the narrowness of the road and lack of cycle lanes. And he rejected the claim that Mr Kotula had been negligent in not using the road or the opposite pavement, which was clear of street works at the time.
“In my judgment, it’s only with the benefit of cruel hindsight that it might be said that Mr Kotula should have risked danger on the road or the sanctuary of another pavement, rather than this one,” he said. “He should certainly not be held at all responsible for electing for the wrong option when faced with such a dreadful hazard.
“Neither should he be criticised for momentary inadvertence, loss of balance or misjudgment while trying to negotiate this particular hazard. Accordingly, the defendants’ plea of contributory negligence has not been proved and Mr Kotula does not bear any responsibility for his tragic accident.”
Lawyers will now attempt to agree on the amount of Mr Kotula’s damages payout. Given the extent of his injuries and the devastating effect on his life, his payout is likely to amount to millions. In the meantime, he will receive a £50,000 interim payment.
The court heard that Mr Kotula is currently living with his wife in “unsatisfactory” accommodation and that an application to the court for another interim payment to fund an alternative home is likely soon. The accident happened in in September 2006.