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Legal case

Edinburgh tram tracks held to be direct cause of injury to cyclists

Elizabeth Fairley v Edinburgh Trams Limited & The City of Edinburgh Council; Iain Lowdean v Transport Initiatives Edinburgh Limited & The City of…

The Court of Session has, in a landmark ruling, awarded damages to two cyclists injured in incidents caused by Edinburgh’s tram tracks. The ruling is likely to result in a wealth of subsequent litigation with 39 similar claims placed on stand-by while the two lead cases were considered.

The tram tracks

The system of tram tracks that run through much of Edinburgh has been the subject of much criticism by the local cycling community who say they are a hazard. The issues reported by cyclists include bike wheels being trapped in the tracks as well as the tracks presenting a considerable slip hazard to cyclists particularly in wet weather. Previous research regarding the tracks conducted by Professor Chris Oliver found that 191 cyclists have suffered injury caused by the tracks in the time between their construction in May 2009 up to April 2016 when the research was concluded.

The lead cases

The Court of Session in this instance considered two cases simultaneously brought by Elizabeth Fairley and Iain Lowdean who sought damages of £50,000 and £15,000 respectively.

Ms. Fairley, a nurse at the Sick Children's Hospital in Edinburgh, was injured crossing a track while negotiating traffic in the Haymarket area in 2013. Despite being an experienced local cyclist with awareness of the hazards of tracks and an understanding of the safest means by which to cross them, her rear wheel was pulled into the track causing her to be thrown from her bike into oncoming traffic. Though not struck by any vehicles, Ms. Fairley suffered injuries to her face and legs as a result of the fall.

Mr. Lowdean, a professional golfer, was injured when his bike slipped on tram tracks on Princes Street in 2012. He suffered injuries to both of his hands and his right knee as a result of the fall.

The Court of Session’s decision

The defenders denied liability, arguing that any harm suffered could only have been caused by the negligence on the part of the pursuers. The defenders further submitted that they had fulfilled all their duties and obligations relating to the required standard of reasonable care.

Dismissing the defenders’ arguments and defences, Judge Lady Wolffe found that there was a direct causal link between the design and construction of the tram tracks and the incidents that caused injury to the pursuers.

Finding for the pursuers and ordering the payment of undisclosed sums in damages, Lady Wolffe said “I have no hesitation in rejecting the defenders’ cases of contributory negligence. There was no breach of duty on the part of either pursuer; they bore no responsibility in law for the accidents that befell them”.

The defenders have not, as yet, announced whether they will seek to appeal the decision of the court.


The ruling of the court in this matter that damages should be paid to the pursuers is likely to result in an increase in similar claims, particularly with 39 claims already on stand-by. Further, the ruling places an emphasis on the need for local authorities to take greater care and responsibility in the development and maintenance of infrastructure such as the tram tracks. The defenders in this material case has already announced a scheme of improvements to the tram tracks to ensure the safety of cyclists. It is likely, following this decision, that many other local authorities may be required to follow suit so as not to fall foul of similar litigation in the future.

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