Businessman Ian Vowles was a keen, competitive cyclist until one morning four years ago when he hit a giant pothole while cycling with friends.
Two weeks later, he emerged from a coma and it took months for him to recover from some of his injuries. To this day he remembers nothing of the events of the early hours of April 15, 2008, in Kings Avenue, Westville.
This week, after initially putting up a fight, the eThekwini municipality accepted liability for the accident and, in a settlement made an order of court, it agreed to pay 65 percent of his damages, including past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, and for pain and suffering.
Papers before Durban High Court Judge Gregory Kruger quote a figure of about R4 million, but experts’ reports will still be obtained to get a final amount.
The case adds to a growing list of similar matters in which cyclists and motorcyclists have successfully sued authorities for accidents and injuries resulting from poor road maintenance.
Last year, The Mercury reported that the municipality had agreed to pay biker Scott Taylor, who was left paralysed following an accident 21 years ago when his bike hit a pothole.
And, in 2008, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the provincial government to pay Pietermaritzburg advocate Alistair McIntosh, who was also injured in a pothole accident while cycling.
Vowles, now 64, said the municipality had a duty to inspect and maintain roads.
It had been negligent in not properly inspecting the road, allowing the pothole to form, and in not repairing it or at least putting up signs warning road users of the hole.
According to statements from friends he was riding with early that morning, Vowles was a little ahead of the pack.
“All of a sudden Ian was thrown over his handlebars and landed on the road surface,” said Derek Davies.
Donald Allison said Vowles was wearing a helmet and had his lights on, and the street lights were on.
“I rode there regularly and was aware of the hole. Ian may not have been aware of the extent of it or that it was there at all,” he said.
“I saw Ian fall and I remember thinking we should get him up and get going. My impression was it was not very serious. But when I got there, Ian was very still. I tried to wake him up and realised he was unconscious. And we called for help.”
Apart from the fractured skull and frontal lobe damage, Vowles also had severe facial and neck injuries.
He remained in hospital for a month and received psychiatric care.
Speaking to The Mercury, Vowles said he had been the general manager of a packaging company, and the accident had been “the main motivating factor” in his decision to retire three years early.
He still cycles.
“I am not particularly nervous. I think it’s because I don’t remember anything of what happened. I was unconscious for two weeks, but it was three weeks before I really started to come round.”
He considers himself very lucky.
To keep himself busy after his retirement, he has become the manager of the charity Headway, which deals with acquired brain injuries.
He comes face to face with people who have had strokes, been assaulted and had accidents such as himself. “I see how I could have been… I took the municipality to court on a matter of principle. I don’t want this to happen to somebody else,” he said. - The Mercury