It is undeniable that over the past few years, there has been an increase in the uptake of cyclists on our roads. The transition from working in the office to working from home, and the avoidance of catching public transport, have encouraged people to use alternative methods of commuting. Specifically, cycling.
With more cyclists on the road, and more bike lanes being available to cyclists, the risk of hazards invariably increases. One of the most common risks that cyclists face, is the risk of “dooring”. This is where a vehicle’s door, without notice, opens into the path of a cyclist resulting in a collision.
Much like other collisions between a person and a vehicle, the damages that flow from dooring can be extremely serious.
So who is at fault?
Recently, the Victorian case of Reynolds v Patel  VSC 211 before Justice Tsalamandris, considered this very issue. The parties in this case were Mr Reynolds, the cyclist, Mr Patel, the driver of an Uber vehicle, and Mr Luna, the passenger.
The events of these proceedings are relatively straightforward, being that Mr Luna, while exiting the Uber, opened the rear passenger door of Mr Patel’s vehicle, into the path of Mr Reynolds who was cycling at a “safe and reasonable speed” in the adjacent bicycle lane. Unfortunately, due to the close proximity of Mr Reynolds to the vehicle, there was little time to avoid a collision with the door. This caused Mr Reynolds to go fist first into the door, catapult over it, and then come crashing down onto the concrete.
As the parties had agreed on quantum prior to the hearing, the only matters in dispute were firstly, whether Mr Patel owed a duty of care to Mr Reynolds and, if so, did he breach that duty; secondly, was Mr Reynolds speed and sheer cycling activity a contributing factor to the collision; and thirdly, whether Mr Patel’s duty extended to cover the actions of his passenger, Mr Luna.
It is established law that the driver of a vehicle owes a duty of care to other road users. What is not well established is whether a driver owes a duty of care for the actions of their passengers. We have seen previously in Marten v Harrison & Anor (1988) 7 MVR 542, 545 that taxi driver was found not to be liable when the passenger of the taxi, opened the taxi door which struck an overtaking motorcyclist. One of the critical elements in this was the passenger’s swift exiting of the vehicle was considered to be ‘almost reckless’.
Uniquely, the only case that unequivocally adopted this proposal of extended duty is Trentelman v Roberts & Anor  ACTSC 39. In that case, Ms Roberts in the course of dropping her children off at school, parked approximately 1.5 metres from the kerb. At the time the vehicle was stationary, a cyclist, Ms Trentelman, passed the vehicle on the left-hand side, at which time Ms Roberts directed her children to open the kerbside rear door causing Ms Trentelman’s bicycle to collide with the door.
In Trentelman’s case, Master Harper found that Ms Roberts was liable for the actions of her children, not simply because of the self-evident duty between a driver and cyclist but that Ms Roberts was in charge of the vehicle and directed the children to exit. If Ms Roberts checked her mirrors prior to directing the children to exit, she would have undeniably observed Ms Trentelman. This lack of checking the mirrors was held to be a failure to keep a proper lookout.
While Mr Patel’s counsel relied upon, inter alia, High Court authority highlighting that “…one man is under no duty of controlling another to prevent his doing damage to a third...” and that there are substantial policy considerations in favour of not extending a duty of care owed by drivers for the acts of their passengers, her Honour did not accept those submissions being applicable to these circumstances.
Curiously, and perhaps to Mr Patel’s own doom, Mr Patel was not called to give evidence at the hearing. Subsequently, her Honour was left to find a Jones v Dunkel inference when considering whether Mr Luna asked Mr Patel “is this ok?” when seeking to exit the vehicle.
While the differing outcomes between Trentelman and Stuart relied heavily upon the driver’s appreciation and knowledge of the surrounding circumstances at the time of the accident, in considering the combination of events in these proceedings, it was found that it would be reasonable to accept that a person in Mr Patel’s position could foresee that his conduct in not checking around his vehicle, would involve a risk of injury to other road users.
Ultimately, Mr Patel was found to be negligent in his duty of care to other road users and that Mr Luna’s failure to look for cyclists, or other vehicles, was not the cause of Mr Reyonlds’ injuries. Additionally, and perhaps thankfully for cyclists, Mr Reynolds was not found to have contributed to the collision by cycling the bike lane.
So, what does it all mean?
For drivers, always ensure that you are aware of your surroundings when passengers are leaving your vehicle. If you’re letting them open the door without checking, you’re letting them open the door to liability…for you.
*Disclaimer: This is intended as general information only and not to be construed as legal advice. The above information is subject to changes over time. You should always seek professional advice beforetaking any course of action.*
 Stuart v Kirkland-Veenstra  HCA 15
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