In 2020, an e-bike ride along a shared pathway turned into a long and costly legal battle for Ballina Shire Council.

In a nutshell, a cyclist sustained considerable injuries after colliding with a metal bollard – sparking debates on the careful placement of bollards and a council’s legal duty to safeguard the public.

We track the case’s evolution and Statewide’s role in the appeal process, which ultimately resulted in a common-sense ruling in favour of Ballina.

The rise of e-scooters and e-bikes

Thanks to their eco-friendliness and cost-effectiveness, e-bikes and e-scooters have become increasingly popular in Australia over recent years. But their legal status is complex.

In NSW, e-scooters are illegal on roads, shared paths and cycle paths. However, e-bikes are permitted on shared pathways and cycle paths.

This raises questions about public safety, particularly concerning the placement of traffic control obstacles used to regulate movement and speed on council paths.


The incident that sparked widespread debate

In August 2020, a cyclist rode her e-bike along Ballina’s shared pathway by the Richmond River.

While trying to pass two pedestrians, she veered to avoid a potential collision. However, upon spotting a metal bollard just 20cm from the path’s edge, she overcorrected.

The consequence? The cyclist lost control of her bike, falling off and fracturing her hip.


A concerning initial outcome for Ballina – and all councils

Following the accident, the cyclist pursued legal action against Ballina Shire Council, alleging it acted negligently in both the placement of the bollard and its lack of maintenance.

The District Court of Lismore initially ruled in the cyclist’s favour – ordering Council to pay over $190K in damages and legal costs.

This surprising judgement, based on the idea that the bollard was too risky for cyclists and needed removal, was a big blow for Ballina.

But more than that, it was a concerning outcome for all councils dealing with similar infrastructure issues.


Statewide leads the appeal 

With significant expertise in navigating legal cases and advocating for councils, Statewide was well-placed to challenge the initial ruling.

We were also confident that an appeal would lead to a favourable outcome – arguing that:

  • The plaintiff could not demonstrate that Council was negligent in not removing the bollard
  • Shared pathways pose many hazards for cyclists, including other pedestrians and cyclists
  • The bollard retained its purpose as a legitimate obstacle or traffic calming device – and treating it as a danger would be inconsistent

The result: a common-sense ruling

As hoped and expected, the NSW Court of Appeal delivered a unanimous verdict in favour of Ballina Shire Council.

The court agreed the bollard was a necessary traffic control measure and dismissed claims of negligence on Council’s part.

This significant verdict supported Council’s position – while also highlighting the critical importance of carefully placing bollards and following legal guidelines.


Critical lessons for your council

The Ballina Council vs Moore case serves as a strong reminder of the risks surrounding bollards on shared pathways – and how your council can prevent similar legal disputes.

In summary, when erecting bollards or other traffic management barriers, be sure they’re:

  • Placed there for a reasonable and legitimate purpose
  • Highly visible (using paint, for example)
  • Well-lit using adequate lighting

Supporting you every step of the way

By navigating this complex terrain with diligence, we can help your council ensure it is upholding public safety and mitigating risk.

As pathways continue to become integral components of urban infrastructure, proactive measures will be essential in safeguarding the wellbeing of pathway users and communities. This is particularly crucial given the increasing popularity of e-bikes.

Interested to learn more about what Statewide Mutual can do to support your council? Speak to your Regional Risk Manager today.

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