Former Harley mechanic awarded damages after crash left him afraid of riding motorbikes 

Sheriff Court
Sheriff Court

A former apprentice mechanic who was involved in a road-accident while testing a client’s Harley-Davidson motorbike has successfully obtained an award of damages after being involved in a road accident that gave him a phobia of being killed or injured on a motorbike.

Stuart Conway was working as a modern apprentice mechanic for West Coast Harley-Davidson when he collided with a car driven by the first defender, Fiona Paton. Her insurer, HDI Global SE, appeared as the second defender.

The case was heard in the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court by Sheriff Robert Fife.

Passionate about motorbikes

The pursuer, who was described as being incredibly passionate about motorbikes and Harley-Davidsons in particular, was taken on as a modern apprentice in 2015. He was described as “loving” his job, and expected to complete the apprenticeship in 2018. Prior to the accident, he expected to continue working at West Coast H-D after the end of the apprenticeship.

The collision occurred on 4 October 2017, during which the pursuer’s head went through the rear passenger window of the car. The accident caused the pursuer to suffer a whiplash-type injury to the neck for about 4 months as well as a soft tissue injury to the shoulder for around 12 months.

The pursuer was also described as suffering psychiatric injuries, including a specific phobia relating to riding his own bike, itself a Harley-Davidson, for about five months, as well as a phobia of riding other bikes which persisted. Evidence given by a psychiatrist who treated the pursuer stated this was specifically a phobia of being killed or injured while riding a bike, rather than a phobia of motorbikes themselves.

Following the accident, the pursuer was unable to return to the workshop, so was moved to a front counter position selling parts and customising bikes instead. He resigned from this role at the end of July 2018 due to ongoing unhappiness with the position. He referred himself for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in 2019 through his GP because of his ongoing specific phobia.

Had the pursuer been able to finish his apprenticeship, he would have earned between £20,000 and £25,000 per annum working as a qualified mechanic. He intended to start college in August 2020 to retrain as a photographer, and it was stated it would be a number of years before he would be able to earn what he would have earned as a mechanic.

It was submitted for the pursuer that he had tried to give as truthful an account as he possibly could. While he accepted he had not mentioned a trip he had made with a large group to Tighnabruiach in 2018 on his motorbike, he was not deliberately trying to mislead the court. Further, he had not fabricated his injuries or the effect they had on his employment.

The defenders admitted liability for the accident, but disputed the causation of the pursuer’s psychiatric injury as well as quantum. The diagnosis of a specific phobia relied on the pursuer’s self-reporting, which was unreliable and lacking in credibility. Further, his case was inconsistent with social media and surveillance evidence.

Should have been more open

In his decision, Sheriff Fife assessed the pursuer as a credible witness, saying: “The pursuer was genuine. He was scared of being killed, or seriously injured, when riding a motorbike. I accepted the pursuer had a Specific Phobia of being killed, or seriously injured, in an accident with car when riding a motorbike and, in particular, not his own bike. The pursuer had managed this by avoidance.”

On whether the trip to Tighnabruiach had any significance, he said: “The trip to Tighnabruaich was a major event for the pursuer in riding a bike post-accident, and had taken place less than 3 months before the interview with Dr Harper. The pursuer had posted online about the trip. The pursuer’s account that he completely forgot was not credible. Nevertheless, a distinction has to be made between the pursuer riding his own bike and riding other people’s bikes or other people’s Harley-Davidson bikes.”

Assessing the pursuer’s own evidence in further detail, he said: “The pursuer should have been more open about where and when he was riding his own bike. The pursuer downplayed the extent of riding his own motorbike post-accident. However, I am not persuaded the pursuer was deliberately misleading the experts or fabricating his symptoms.”

He continued: “On the evidence and on a balance of probability, while the pursuer may have continued to be anxious in riding his own bike, I have concluded the pursuer’s Specific Phobia of riding his own bike no longer fulfilled the criteria for DSM-5 by the date of the trip to Tighnabruaich in April 2018. The pursuer had and continues to have a Specific Phobia in riding other people’s bikes, including Harley Davidson bikes. That Specific Phobia is ongoing.”

Regarding the quantum of damages, Sheriff Fife said: “The pursuer said he expected to finish around 6 months after he left West Coast H-D. For the purpose of past wage loss only, I am proceeding on the basis that but for the accident the pursuer would have completed the apprenticeship by the end of 2018 and that he would have been paid as a qualified mechanic from January 2019.”

As a final comment, he added: “While the pursuer may not have deliberately misled expert witnesses in downplaying his motorbike riding post-accident and not being open about his employment after leaving West Coast H-D this was not satisfactory, not only for the experts as the factual basis for their reports but the additional court time in dealing with these matters. The pursuer accepted in evidence he had not always been truthful in relation to this, as a matter of fact. If I had concluded the pursuer had misled the expert witnesses damages awarded, if any, would have been very substantially restricted.”

For these reasons, Sheriff Fife granted decree against the defenders for payment to the pursuer in the sum of £61,252,27 inclusive of interest from the date of proof. Of this, £9,627.77 comprised an award of solatium, with the rest calculated from various periods of wage loss.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020

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