[author: Ryan Cable]
The Supreme Court of New South Wales has held in Collins v Clarence Valley Council (No 3)  NSWSC 1682 that Clarence Valley Council was not negligent for Dr Collins falling off a bridge when the wheel of her bicycle became stuck in a gap between the planks on the deck of a wooden bridge.
In April 2008, Dr Collins was participating in an organised charity ride heading north along the coast of New South Wales. The course of the ride took participants across the Bluff Bridge, a wooden bridge on the Orara Way, between Coffs Harbour and Grafton.
When the front wheel of Dr Collins’ bicycle became stuck, it caused her to fall over the low guardrails on the side of the bridge, landing on the embankment several meters below. She suffered significant injuries and was airlifted to Sydney. Damages were agreed at $822,632.00.
Dr Collins alleged her accident was caused by the negligence of Council in that the bridge was frequently used by cyclists and was in a poor state of repair. She alleged Council knew or ought to have known the bridge was unsafe for cyclists and that it should have taken steps to eliminate or minimise the risk posed to cyclists. Such steps included repairs or the erection of a warning sign.
Council relied on a number of defences in the Civil Liability Act 2002 (CLA) available to roads authorities such as councils.
Justice Beach-Jones held the relevant risk of injury to a cyclist was their wheels becoming stuck in the gaps between the wooden planks on the bridge and that this risk was foreseeable and not insignificant. However, the risk was held to be an obvious risk, resulting in there being no duty on the part of the Council to warn (i.e. installing a sign).
His Honour also found the Council was not liable for any failure to repair or inspect the bridge as Dr Collins did not show the Council had actual knowledge of the particular risk, i.e. a cyclist’s wheel becoming caught (s 45 CLA defence). Council also successfully raised the defence of limited resources in its management of the bridge and all the other wooden bridges under its control (s 42 CLA defence). The Court held a reasonable person the Council’s position would not have repaired the bridge in the manner suggested by Dr Collins.
Council’s successful defence of Dr Collins’ claim reflects the continued strength of the actual knowledge of risk and resource allocation defences provided to roads authorities in New South Wales.