The High Court has ruled on the issue of liability when a driver causes injury to a third party in circumstances when fearing for his or her safety.
It was made clear that a breach of duty in negligence involved the application of the test of objective reasonableness. In this instance, the actions of the First Defendant in attempting to flee the scene had not fallen below the standard of the reasonable driver.
The First Defendant, Mr Barnes, entered a McDonald's in Bolton with a group of his friends. A verbal altercation ensued with another group. When leaving, one of Mr Barnes' friends made racially provocative comments.
The driver of a Mercedes parked in the McDonald's car park, Mr Bagas, believed he was the target of the comments and got out of his car along with the Claimant, who was a passenger, to confront Mr Barnes' group.
It was alleged that Mr Bagas kicked and hit Mr Barnes' vehicle, challenging him to a fight before opening the driver's door and attempting to pull him from his car. In "a panic and fearing for himself and his passengers' safety", the First Defendant fled the scene in his car. As he did so, he collided with the Claimant, who was stood in front of the vehicle. The Claimant suffered serious injuries.
The Claimant pleaded that the First Defendant had been negligent but did not plead that the First Defendant had used his car as a weapon. Mr Barnes denied negligence as well as pleading self-defence and necessity.
Mr Barnes had previously been acquitted of the criminal charge of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
Mr Justice Turner found D1 had acted reasonably in circumstances where he believed that he was under attack. The Defendant was in genuine fear for his safety and that of his two female passengers.
The Court found that accelerating away was reasonable and understandable in the circumstances and his actions did "not fall below the standard of the reasonable driver placed in the threatening and rapidly developing situation in which he found himself. In these circumstances he is not liable in negligence."
The Court also elected not to provide comment on any contributory negligence which may have been attributable had the First Defendant been found to have been negligent.
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