Back in 2016, I was involved in a crash. Two weeks before the Dartmoor Classic sportive, I was probably fitter than at any other time in my life, and was comfortably confident of getting a gold medal. Cycling to work, as I did daily, I used to leave earlier, and take the longer route, treating my commute as part of my training. On the day of the crash I was taking it fairly easily, as I’d usually do in the final 2 weeks before an event.
I was cycling along a road in Plymouth, setting a reasonable pace, when a driver suddenly pulled out right in front of me. An on-coming van or truck – not sure which – was wanting to turn right into the road the driver had just pulled out off, meaning there was nowhere for me to go, and I smashed into the back of the car, right on the corner.
The most painful injury and initially the only one I was aware of at the time was my calf muscle, which I’d torn quite badly, but – to quote the doctor who later examined me – I’d concertina’d my spine, injuring it in 3 different places. To this day, and probably for the rest of my life, I suffer from back pain, though interestingly enough, not when cycling.
Through my cycling organisation membership, I had legal representation, and what follows here is not at attack on the law firm who handled my claim. Instead, I’m hoping that – should you ever be in a crash – it might help you.
You see, the driver admitted liability at the roadside. Initially, they didn’t stop, but drove on a short distance. Then they stopped, got out and walked back to where I lay on the road, asking if I was OK. They kept apologising, saying they saw saw me, but thought I was further away (I was dressed brightly, and riding with an 800-lumen front light switched on).
If ever that happens to you, use your phone and video the driver saying that, if at all possible.
They then got in their car and again drive a short distance, before pulling over. I managed to limp over and got their details.
I made some serious mistakes that day, from that point onwards, and that started with riding my bike to work. You see, sometimes, as training, I’d unclip one foot and pedal with just one leg. The crash point was little over halfway between home and work, but crucially, between there and work I had only 1 small climb, while between me and home there were many. I cycled to work as I knew there was no way I’d make it home when pedalling with just one leg, and my only other option was to remain by the roadside, bleeding and in pain.
I was in shock and only able to focus on 1 of 2 safety points – home, or work.
That was my first mistake, and was used against me. The 2nd mistake was that I kept my Strava as open as it normally was.
My colleagues at work were extremely unsupportive, despite me having been bloody, and in very visible pain. I managed to limp by myself to the nearest Minor Injuries Unit, around a mile away (but was questioned about my absence from work upon my return!)
I had no method of getting myself to a doctor at the time, and even that was used against me, to somehow suggest my injuries weren’t bad at all.
I couldn’t cycle at all for the next 2 weeks. As anyone who cycles daily will understand, not being able to ride was driving me mad, and after almost 3 weeks, I got back on my bike. It was agony, and even when dosed up with painkillers, and with my left calve firmly strapped, I was in real pain. I couldn’t clip in at all with my left foot, and pedalled with my heel on the pedal, so I wouldn’t have to flex my ankle.
Unfortunately, those 1st rides were logged to Strava, too. At the time, I was proud of the fact that I was fighting both pain and injury, to return to cycling, but the law firm supposedly representing me simply used it to dismantle my case.
As I certainly couldn’t ride the Dartmoor Classic, I gave my place to a clubmate, who set a blistering pace. Under my name. That would be used against me, too, as the Dartmoor Classic rules state you shouldn’t do that.
Later – against doctor’s advice – I continued cycling, and logged those rides to Strava. Yes, I was far slower, but I was riding. All of that was used against me. Yes, by the lawyers who were supposed to represent me.
The law firm assigned a paralegal to my case, and they were frankly useless. A fairly short time into my claim, I was notified that the 1st paralegal was leaving them, and that my case was being assigned to a different one, who turned out to be as unhelpful as the first. After more time, the case was assigned to yet another paralegal, again as unhelpful as the first two. I was left under no doubt whatsoever that I was just a number to them.
Between the 3 of them, they tore my case apart, saying it was my word against that of the driver (in fairness, it was). The driver had since changed their story and claimed the crash happened further along the road, and that they had to stop because of other traffic.
The law firm said the fact that I passed my place for the sportive to another rider will be seen as evidence that I’m somehow a dishonest person, and the last paralegal absolutely disputed my transport costs claims, effectively alluding that I was lying about not having been able to cycle-commute daily.
As evidence, the paralegal used my Strava records showing how “extremely soon” after the crash I was “able to ride”. There was zero recognition of the fact that, even a full year after the crash, I was in serious pain when cycling. Equally, there was zero recognition that immediately after the crash, I was in severe shock, impacting my decision-making, and that I just wanted to get to a place of safety.
So, what are the lessons learned from this?
Simple: if you have a crash, call an ambulance, and get yourself medically checked over ASAP. Yes, even if you feel OK. If you don’t do this, and it emerges later that you sustained injuries, it will be used against you.
Second, make your Strava private, as soon as you possibly can, showing your rides to nobody at all, at least until well after the claim is settled. Yes, that includes your legal team. To them, you’re just a number, and they actually couldn’t care any less about your case. They get paid either way.
Third, get the names of witnesses. Take photos of the reg number of all cars, even those of witnesses, as well as the drivers’ faces, and the positions of the cars.
Fourth, no matter what, do NOT get back on your bike until after the claim is settled, unless given the go-ahead by a doctor.
There’s this commonly-held belief that lawyers serve justice and the truth. They don’t – they serve the law and the profits they stand to make. Unless you personally select the law firm that will deal with your claim, prepare to simply be a product on a conveyor belt – in my case it seemed the paralegals were happy to close my case down a.s.a.p. as “less than 50% likely to be successful” as a terrific method of reducing their workload. If so, it worked brilliantly, as they never took my case to court, and the driver walked away from it all, while I have permanent spinal damage.