Judge berates Clarence Valley Council over injured doctor

A DOCTOR who suffered serious injuries during a charity bike ride between Coffs Harbour and Grafton, has failed in her bid to sue the Clarence Valley Council for damages.

The council narrowly escaped an $800,000 pay-out this week but not without a dressing down from a NSW Supreme Court judge.

Ann Collins was riding her bike along Bluff Bridge, Orara Way, when a wheel became stuck between two planks and catapulted her over the guard rails and into the forest below.

The experienced cyclist was taking part in the annual Sydney to Surfers Paradise charity ride, which raises money for Father Chris O'Reilly's Youth off the Streets initiative.

She told the NSW Supreme Court that on the morning of April 5, 2008, she and a group of cyclists took off from Coffs, stopped at Glenreagh for lunch and headed for Grafton.

When she reached the bridge, Dr Collins said she knew she would have to ride the bike at an angle to avoid being caught in the gaps and stick to the left in case she was confronted by an oncoming timber truck.

She said the bike stopped suddenly and she "toppled over".

"It was like I somersaulted over the side," Dr Collins said

"...I tried to grab for the railing and the side of the bridge but I just couldn't hold on and then I just remember letting go and just going crash, crash, crash 'til I stopped on a rock further down."

Senior Constable David Sams from the Coramba Police Station said that when he attended the scene Dr Collins has "significant" lower leg injuries.

Dr Collins claimed the council had breached its duty of care by failing to maintain the bridge and erect warning signs.

It was accepted that should she be successful, she could recover more than $800,000 for contributory negligence.

The council claimed it had no record of a cyclist accident on the bridge before Dr Collins was injured and that the condition of the bridge had deteriorated significantly since its last inspection.

After an article on the accident appeared in the Daily Examiner in 2008, the council erected a sign which warned "cyclists dismount, beware of gaps in bridge deck".

Justice Robert Beech-Jones found that ultimately there was an "obvious risk" of injury and the claim must fail.

He accepted the council did not have a duty to warn cyclists but said it was "unreasonable" that it had not done so.

He stressed that the council was only able to avoid liability because of its "own ignorance" and said the ignorance of risk did "not reflect well upon its own practices".

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