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Young cyclist wins crash case against insurance 'bully boys'

Copy of CTC press release, 2001

The parents of Darren Coombs, the young cyclist seriously brain damaged in a collision with a car on the Isle of Wight in May 1997 yesterday won their liability claim against the driver and her insurer Provident Insurance plc.

The case was brought by Mr and Mrs Coombs after the police refused to prosecute and despite Provident's threat to counter-sue. The judge, Anthony Thompson QC, dismissed most of the police evidence as "opinion evidence" and refused the defence leave to appeal. At the end of his hour long summing up, Mr Thompson concluded: "There was no degree of contributory negligence to attach to the young cyclist."

Mr and Mrs Coombs, of Sandown, Isle of Wight, were both present at the one-day hearing at Winchester Crown Court. Trevor Coombs said: "I am dumbfounded. This shows we were telling the truth all along. Why should big companies be allowed to use bully boy tactics like this?

"Cyclists always get it in the neck and as a professional [coach] driver I know how vulnerable cyclists are. Hopefully now they will be safer on the roads."

Darren was eight when he was in a collision with a VW Golf while riding his bike to a friend's house. Provident initially threatened a counter-suing action against his parents and Valerie Cole, the childminder looking after Darren that day. Provident's threat arose from its claim that Darren should have been wearing a helmet and should not have been allowed out unsupervised. The company was forced to withdraw its action under a deluge of angry protests from CTC and hundreds of cyclists.

Yesterday's liability case hinged on two conflicting eye witness statements. One, by a pedestrian, suggested that the Golf struck Darren after drifting into a bus lay-by next to a junction from which Darren cycled. The second stated that Darren had cycled onto the main carriageway into the path of the car.

The judge concluded that the pedestrian, despite police claims that her story did not "fit in" with their view of events, was "a reliable witness whose account was the most cogent." Of the van driver, he said "his account today did not tally and was at variance with the account given in his statement after the accident."

The judge added that it was "extremely strange that [the driver] did not see the bike before she heard the collision....and it is extremely difficult to place great reliance on her evidence that the impact was on the carriageway."

Darren is now 13 but has a mental age of nine. Solicitors for the family will now seek medical reports and their compensation submission is likely to be heard next year. The amount they claim will depend on two things: the severity of Darren's injuries as assessed by neurologists and other medical experts; and the consequences of the crash - what would have happened had the collision not taken place.

Mr Coombs said: "I'm glad it's all over. Now we can concentrate on looking after Darren and making sure he is financially secure for the rest of his life

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