Product Liability and the Second Hand Bike Market
Broken Bikes & Broken Bones
As a Solicitor specialising in cycling claims I meet clients who have been injured in a variety of ways whilst cycling. As you would expect, the majority have either been knocked off their bikes by a reckless motorist, have hit a pothole and come off worse, or have lost the age old battle between oil on the road, rubber bike tyres and the co-efficient of friction.
Surprising however are the numbers who are injured when their bike simply collapses beneath them, those whose wheels buckle, or whose pedals drop off beneath their feet. This is the world of product liability and it was brought starkly into perspective by my own experiences this weekend when fitting some newly purchased hydraulic brakes.
I like to consider myself a fairly experienced off road cyclist (although others will beg to differ). Most weekends I can be found out in the woods around Guisborough and Pinchinthorpe and to those who know the area you will appreciate how important a good set of brakes are. Some of the imaginatively titled runs (the Chute, Secret Path, Santa’s Grotto to name a few) include sudden drops, sharp turns and hair-raising (at least if I had any) switchbacks. Trying to attempt any of these runs without a good set of brakes will rapidly leave even the best riders in trouble as my biking partner will attest – he broke an elbow trying to do just this. He was lucky, I only had to help carry him and his bike two miles back to the car afterwards and a within a couple of months he was back in the saddle.
I always use hydraulic disc brakes, but decided to upgrade these to a higher spec set. Being newly married I didn’t quite have the money to afford a new pair of the ones I wanted at £400 but was able to pick up a bargain basement set via ebay. They looked to be in fairly good condition and on fitting them to the bike seemed to work well. Looks can be deceiving.
As a slave to fashion I insisted the brakes had to match the bike! To do this I stripped the hydraulic hoses to replace them with spiffy lime green ones. In the process I found that one of the seals in the front brake calliper had disintegrated and hydraulic fluid was slowly leaking out. Finding this in the workshop was a godsend. Had I not stripped the hoses there the brake would have failed especially under the heavy braking needed on Guisborough’s steep descents. It would have been disastrous.
Whilst I am happy just to have avoided injury, it set me thinking about what rights an individual who does suffer injury has in these situations.
As you might expect, the situation differs greatly depending on whether the bike (or parts) are new or second hand.
New Bike Market
The Consumer Protection Act 1987 (CPA) gives people the right to sue the producer, importer or own brander of a defective product for damages for death, injury, or damage to property caused by the product. In plain English this means that if you buy a new bike, handlebars, wheel or any other product which breaks and you are injured as a result, you can sue for compensation.
As most products are no longer made in the UK, the CPA allows you to sue the company that imported the product into the EU through the English Courts as though they were the producer of the item. Similarly if the seller that you bought the item from refuses to tell you who the producer or importer was then the CPA lets you sue the seller in their place.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that simply because you buy a new bike or new parts that everything will be safe. I have acted for clients whose new bike frames have snapped beneath them mid ride or whose fork steerer tubes have collapsed throwing them over the handlebars. In my experience however you do get what you pay for. A lot of the bikes that collapse are “supermarket bikes” often costing less than £100. I read a review recently of similar bikes which found that, amongst other things, the wheels weren’t even round! Although the provisions of the CPA would apply if you were injured due to defect with such a bike, in my view it may be worth spending a little more money to avoid that risk in the first place.
Second Hand Market
If you buy a second hand bike or part then the one Latin phrase all lawyers remember from their law school days applies “caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware! This places the onus on you as the buyer to check carefully what you are buying.
When you buy second hand items from a private individual, you don’t have the same rights as when buying from a business seller. It may sound strange but you have no right to expect that items are of satisfactory quality or fit for their purpose although there is a requirement that they should be as described. You must therefore check the item thoroughly before buying it.
If you do buy second hand and things go wrong then, although you should always speak with a solicitor to discuss your individual circumstances, it can be harder to sue for compensation for your injuries.
I was lucky with my brakes but I am not put off buying second hand, I just plan on stripping checking and rebuilding every second hand part I buy now.
If you are not a confident home mechanic then take any parts to your local reputable bike shop first. Have their qualified mechanics check and service the parts. You may pay a fee for this service but usually you will still have saved money compared to the cost of buying these items new plus you have the peace of mind of knowing that they have been checked and are safe. And in the worst case, if something does subsequently go wrong, then as a last resort you may be able to claim against the bike shop if they haven’t carried out a thorough enough job.
Hopefully this guide offers some help in explaining your rights. I’m off to test those new brakes now. Hopefully my skills as a mechanic are up to it and I will be back in one piece!
This article is intended only as a very brief introductory guide. There is a significant amount of law covering this area. Different rules may apply if, for instance, you buy an item second hand but from a business (such as a second hand bike shop) or if you are claiming for the costs of repairing or replacing your damaged bike but are not injured. You must always seek specialist legal advice on your own individual circumstances.