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Speeding vs Unsafe Turning: Which Is More Negligent? 50-50 apportionment says the High Court

25th March 2019

James Arney, instructed by Adrian Cottam of DAC Beachcroft, acted for the Defendant in a 2-day liability trial against Stephen Killalea QC. The case was heard by Rowena Collins Rice in the High Court.  The Defendant was travelling at 42-45mph along a 30mph town street on approach to a zebra crossing next to Byron Primary School at 3.50pm. The Claimant turned across the Defendant’s path, resulting in her car being ‘T-boned’ by the Defendant’s approaching car. Liability was apportioned 50/50.

The Claimant had pushed in a line of parked cars, near a junction, opposite the corner of the school playground. As the Defendant approached from the opposite direction, the Claimant began, from a stationary position, a manoeuvre which involved crossing the Defendant’s path. As she pulled across his path, the Defendant’s car struck the passenger side of the Claimant’s car, shunting it into the corner of the primary school walls. The Claimant suffered allegedly serious injuries, including it is said life-changing brain damage.

The Defendant’s speed was acknowledged by the Defendant to attract liability, but it was argued that the main cause of the accident was the Claimant’s unpredictable manoeuvre across the path of the oncoming traffic. The Claimant denied all culpability. The Court held that although the Defendant was travelling at excessive speed, the Claimant, who had a long, clear line of sight, could not have safely completed the manoeuvre she had started. She had driven unsafely and was a cause of the collision.

Collins Rice J. was clear that there must be a measure of responsibility on both drivers for this accident. Adopting the approach approved by the Supreme Court in Jackson v Murray [2015] UKSC 5, ‘causative potency’ and ‘blameworthiness’ of each driver’s conduct must be considered in the just and equitable apportionment of liability. The exercise is highly fact sensitive and evaluative, but guided by principles in authorities.

Notwithstanding the location of the school and the time of day, it was held not to be unreasonable to travel at the 30mph limit rather than at a lower speed. There is no obvious reason to think that a competent and alert driver would not have been safe driving close to or at the speed limit.

Whilst the Defendant’s driving was excessive, the nature of and level of the speeding made it misjudged rather than reckless and flagrant. The Claimant instead of waiting, pulled out, across the Defendant’s right of way, in circumstances where he could not avoid hitting her. Each created a considerable hazard for the other. The Claimant’s decision to begin turning when the Defendant was already visibly going too fast to accommodate her manoeuvre may have been the more proximate cause. The Defendant’s conduct in driving above the speed limit may have been the more blameworthy. But in the end, it was the combination of the Defendant’s unsafe speed and the Claimant’s unsafe timing which set in motion an accident neither of them could then avoid.

The court held that a just and equitable apportionment of liability, in circumstances where each party had created a considerable hazard for the other, was 50% in respect of each party. Judgement reflected the Defendant’s successful Part 36 offer of 50-50 liability.

The case also resolved an issue of fact on seatbelt usage.

Please see below for link to Judgment.

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Related Barristers

James Arney QC

James Arney QC
Year of Call: 1992
Year of Silk: 2021

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