And so a question I am frequently asked is: ‘as I am no longer willing to ride a bike, can I claim damages?’ And these damages can be substantial.
Consider a commuter journeying into one of the UK’s big cities. A season ticket is £3000 a year and over the 20 year span of a working life left (ignoring the niceties of legal multipliers, interest, the costs saved by not having a motorcycle and inflation) that’s sixty grand please.
Where a rider cannot commute because their pelvis is too broken to stand, no arguments, a guaranteed seat on the train is the measure of damages. But what about the rider who is too scared to get back on a bike?
Fear is not enough
The short answer is that unless there is a diagnosed psychiatric reaction then fear alone is not enough to take the train at the insurer’s expense.
There is an old and very well established case from 1963 that says if you make a choice not to return to something dangerous because you have seen at close quarters the danger, that is a rational decision for you, but the incident did not make riding a motorcycle any more or less dangerous. The facts related to a scaffolder but the point stands. Thankfully there is a middle way which fights the fear.
The human brain is a complex thing but we share bits of it with the most primitive vertebrates, and the part of your brain which pumps out fear hormones is a shared bit of vertebrate brain hardware called the amygdala.
The fear hormones which this part of your brain throws out are the choice not to return same stress hormones as our ancient ancestors experienced when confronted by a ferocious creature who had a taste for homo sapiens.
It is an essential part of our survival mechanism. But if your amygdala starts pumping out hormones because of a stress reaction caused by the noise of a bus, because it was a bus that sent you sprawling, you cannot sprint away from every bus you hear. Yet your amygdala is still chemically compelling you to run, fight or freeze.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy after a Motorcycle Accident
So, what can be done? Luckily there is a very effective form of treatment called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) wherein your intelligent homo sapien brain learns a technique to shut your lizard brain up.
For many people the amygdala will quieten down on its own but for plenty of other folk it will keep up its evolutionary function, so if you are getting distressed by your bike after a few months have passed since your off, get some CBT in.
It is now practised by just about every psychotherapist, and hundreds of my clients have been through it over the years, and it works.
Insurers are always very happy to pay for CBT because it is inexpensive, effective and a whole lot cheaper than paying out damages for a phobic reaction or full blown post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, if you make a decision, after a motorcycle collision, that bikes are no longer for you the law does not come to your aid.
If you make a rational decision to stop doing something because you think it is too dangerous, the law will have no problem with you making that choice, but no one is going to pay for it.
Bike Magazine October 2020