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Motor claims: Driver not liable for injuries sustained by inattentive Claimant

  • 31 March 2021 31 March 2021
  • UK & Europe

  • Insurance & Reinsurance

A driver was found to bear no responsibility for injuries sustained by a pedestrian who had stepped out into the road without looking or paying attention. The driver was found to have been driving at an appropriate speed and had adequately scanned the road ahead. He could not have anticipated the Claimant walking out into the road against the pedestrian lights.

Motor claims: Driver not liable for injuries sustained by inattentive Claimant

This decision provides a useful insight into circumstances where a driver may not be found liable or partly liable for a road traffic accident, despite the high burden placed on drivers due to the potential injuries that can be caused to pedestrians.

Gary Vincent v Kevin Walker [2021] EWHC 536 (QB)

Background

The Claimant stepped off a pedestrian crossing refuge in the centre of the road. When he was approximately two thirds of the way across, he was knocked over by a vehicle driven by the Defendant driver. The Claimant sustained a head injury and had no recollection of the collision. 

The Defendant stated immediately following the collision that he was travelling at about 45-50mph (the speed limit was 50mph) as he approached the traffic lights, which were on green. He saw the Claimant as he stepped off from the pedestrian island and into the road. The Defendant stated that the Claimant was looking ahead and down, and not towards his car. Despite applying emergency brakes, a collision could not be avoided.

A witness travelling in the opposite direction saw the Claimant cross towards the centre refuge in front of her. She saw the Defendant's headlights approaching in the opposite direction but did not see the Claimant look up once and said that he "just walked out in front of [the Defendant's] car".

Experts

The issues to be addressed were:

  • whether the Defendant was driving at an excessive speed.
  • whether he was paying insufficient attention to the road and surrounding area as he approached the pedestrian crossing.

The Claimant had already accepted that he was contributorily negligent as he was not paying attention when he stepped out onto the road.

The Claimant's and Defendant's experts prepared a joint report concluding that the speed of the Defendant's car upon impact would have been approximately 28 to 31mph.

The Defendant's expert averred that the earliest opportunity the Defendant could have seen the Claimant would have been when he was on the central refuge. The Claimant's expert stated that the Claimant could have been observed and tracked as he crossed towards the central refuge and whilst walking through the central refuge. It was stated that the Claimant's constant dynamic movement would have increased the likelihood of catching the Defendant's attention.

Judgment

The claim was dismissed by David Pittaway QC, sitting as judge in the High Court.

In respect of the first issue, it was held the Defendant was probably travelling at 39 to 41mph when he first saw the Claimant. This speed was not considered to be excessive given the circumstances of the road. The speed limit of 50mph reflected the nature of the road, and the judge found that the Defendant probably eased his foot off the accelerator as he approached the crossing.

Regarding the second issue, this question was more difficult. The judge was not satisfied that the Claimant would have been visible to the Defendant before he reached the central refuge. He doubted that if the Defendant had scanned the central refuge as he approached, he would have registered the presence of the Claimant. The Claimant was wearing dark clothing and his silhouette was unlikely to have been picked up by a driver travelling in the Defendant's direction.

The judge concluded that even if the Defendant had viewed the Claimant on the central refuge the outcome of the accident would not have altered as the Defendant could not have reasonably anticipated the Claimant was going to walk onto the road against the pedestrian lights and without looking. A reasonably prudent driver, driving at 39 – 41mph in a 50mph zone, was permitted to rely upon an adult pedestrian using the traffic lights and pressing the button before he crossed.

The judge found that the Defendant did not drive at excessive speed or fail to scan the road adequately. The Claimant had chosen "to take the risk to walk into the road without looking to see if there were any vehicles approaching."

Had liability been found on the part of the Defendant, then the Claimant would still have been two-thirds contributory negligent as the Claimant was primarily responsible for the accident.

What we can learn

  • The Defendant had stated that he was travelling at 45-50mph at the time of the collision when questioned immediately after. The judge commented that "caution should be applied to what [the Defendant] said or did not say immediately after the accident". He had believed the Claimant was dead and so was understandably very shocked when he was being questioned by police officers.
  • The Claimant's expert undertook a 'test' with his colleague to ascertain when the Claimant could have been seen from the road. The Defendant's expert agreed a pedestrian may have been identifiable before reaching the central refuge, but that in the ‘test’ scenario, the observer would have been aware of the pedestrian's presence. It was therefore to be expected the pedestrian would be spotted earlier in the 'test' scenario than the 'real world scenario'.
  • To that end, counsel for the Defendant referred to the judgment in Ahanonu v South East London & Kent Bus Company Limited [2008] where it was stated that instances of negligence prompted a danger that the court may "evaluate the standard of care owed by the defendant by reference to fine considerations elicited in the leisure of the court room, perhaps with the liberal use of hindsight." This could lead to an obligation to guarantee the Claimant's safety rather than a duty to take reasonable care. It was submitted that the Claimant's counsel was advocating perfection. The case of Stewart v Glaze [2009] was referenced, specifically the comments of Coulson LJ that "it is important to ensure that the court does not unwittingly replace [the standard of the reasonable driver] test with the standard of the ideal driver."

 

End

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