I was riding behind an old Ford Fiesta. It had a Christmas tree tied to its roof, and they were clearly on the way down to the tip. The Christmas tree was tied to the roof with builder’s twine. As we got out of town, both I and the Fiesta accelerated. I started going for an overtake when, probably as a result of increased speed, the Christmas tree literally flicked off the roof and straight across me.
I was only lightly touched by the loose Christmas tree, but it was enough to knock me off my bike, what with my braking and steering away from a bouncing Christmas tree. Luckily I was completely uninjured and after an exchange of insurance details, I rode my lightly damaged bike home. The damage was all cosmetic apart from the tip of my clutch lever being snapped off, my bar end being scuffed and my gear change lever being bent.
My local Honda dealership said the repair job would be about £1,800! I was contacted by a claims management company after I reported it to my own fully comp insurers. I resisted the temptation to take out a hire bike and carried out running repairs on my bike to get it back on the road for about £60 worth of eBay bits. I was a bit surprised to get hit by an allegation that I was at least partially to blame.
The insurers of the Fiesta say that I was travelling at too great a speed, I should have anticipated that the Christmas tree was loosely tied on and could fall off and l was ‘the author of my own misfortune by an ill-judged overtaking manoeuvre’. My own claims company is suggesting that I should take a 25 per cent hit through ‘excessive speed and overtaking’. I went past the Fiesta that was travelling at about 40 in a 60 zone. The overtake was completely safe. The only thing that made a difference was the Christmas tree falling off the roof. How am I to blame for that?
The short answer is you are not. Unfortunately your insurance company has an ‘in house claims unit’ that tries to make its money on things like storage and hire of bikes that you do not want. You were wise not to take out a hire bike. As you pointed out you got your bike back on the road for about £60 in bits, as opposed to accumulating £300 a week on hire charges, which goes straight into your insurer’s pockets.
Your bike would also have disappeared for at least 10 weeks so that they could rack up the storage charges. Nice for them if you’d been enough of a mug to play their game as they’d have £3,500 in hire and storage for an £1,800 repair. Because your insurance company is now not making any money out of either bike hire or storage, they really cannot be bothered with you.
You do not have to anticipate an unsecured load. You have the right to expect that anyone who goes out on to the road does so with a reasonably safe vehicle, and you do not have to anticipate each and every stupid thing that any car driver can do. As you quite correctly point out your overtake was entirely lawful and there is one cause of this accident and one cause alone, namely the guy in the Fiesta cannot tie a Christmas tree to his roof adequately. His negligence is going out on to the road with an unsecured load and my best advice to you is sack off the ‘claims unit’ who clearly have not got the first idea what they are talking about nor any motivation to do a proper job for you, other than to let you have an insurance loading which will push up your premiums for the next five years, (again, very nice for them).
So write to the insurers of the Fiesta, tell them what the repairs cost you, tell them that you have sacked your ‘representatives’, and if you do not have the repairs paid for, you will be commencing small claims proceedings in your local County Court. The people you have got ‘acting’ for you are actually worse than useless and they have an active interest in you going down for some blame so your premium can be hiked up. You would be better off on your own.