Case News - Planning to Buy a Bicycle following the Giro D'Italia? What are your consumer rights?

14 May 2014

With the Giro D'Italia spirit encouraging an uptake in cycling, it is worth considering your rights as a consumer when purchasing a new bike.

Love -v- Halfords Ltd [2014] EWHC 1057

The facts were that in May 2008, then aged 19 Mr Love  bought a new Saracen "Raw 2" mountain bicycle from Halford's for £250, plus £50 for a three year care maintenance plan. He returned it for a routine after-sales service on 23 August 2008. Nothing untoward was found. On 28 February 2009 when he was riding the bike on a tarmac cycle path when he said that the steerer tube in the mechanism of the bike fractured, causing him to lose control of the bike and fall off. He landed on his face striking a sharp metal stanchion and suffered very serious head and facial injuries including the loss of one of his eyes. Because of his injuries he has no recollection of the accident or his journey leading up to it. His evidence was that over the nine months or so over which he had owned the bicycle he used it regularly for short journeys to and from his place of work and for recreational trips with his friends at weekends. He had effected no alterations or repairs to the bicycle of any kind. The trial of the liability issue was his claim for damages under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended) and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

Mr Love accepted that the burden of proving to a normal civil standard that the fracture of the tube caused the accident and that there had been a defect in the tube at the time he purchased the bicycle.  Halford's argued that the steerer tube had been bent in a high velocity accident or a failed attempt to steal the bike, and was incompetently repaired and weakened by an attempted re-straightening exercise. Alternatively, it was argued that the accident was not caused by any component failing, but was of such a high velocity that the steerer tube was fractured.  Engineers for both sides agreed that if this bicycle was built according to its design and specification and fitted with a non defective steerer tube that tube ought not to fracture when the machine was ridden in normal road conditions, by which they meant bumps, potholes, kerb jumping and moderate off road activity.

The trial judge found in favour of Halfords' and dismissed the claim on the evidence. Although Halford's could not be specific as to how it happened, the judge concluded that some accident - a collision, or aggressive jumping or similar riding  involving the placing of excessive bending force on the tube took place and there was a botched attempt to repair it which made it worse. On the balance of probabilities the bicycle was found not to have been defective on the date of supply. There was nothing defective about its design, assembly or the steel from which it was made. The probable cause of the final fracture was a second accident, involving considerable speed and force.

If you are a retailer, and would like some advice on consumer rights or product liability please contact Andrew Burke.

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