CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE: EXPERT EVIDENCE: ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS: SPEED: VEHICLE MANOEUVRES: INATTENTIVENESS
A car driver who pulled out to execute a turn in the path of a motorcyclist was liable for injuries sustained by the latter because he had failed to ensure that the way was clear before making his manoeuvre. Even though the motorcyclist was travelling too fast, he would not have had time to avoid a serious accident if he had been travelling at a lesser speed and was therefore not contributorily negligent.
The court was required to apportion liability following a road traffic accident between the claimant motorcyclist (B) and the defendant car driver (D).
D had been stuck in traffic on a straight section of a single-lane A road subject to a 60 mph speed limit. B had been riding his motorcycle on the same road, in the same direction, behind D. D decided to execute a u-turn and go back in the opposite direction to escape the queue. In his statement made on the day of the accident, D stated that he had indicated for about 30 seconds before pulling out into the opposite lane. However, in a later witness statement he said that he had been indicating for 15 to 20 seconds before starting to turn. He had then collided with B, who was filtering past the queue of traffic and was thrown off his motorbike. B sustained severe injuries, including to his brain. Various witnesses gave evidence, including a driver who had been travelling in the opposite direction and who had just passed D when the collision occurred. The issues were whether D was liable for B’s injuries; and if so, whether B was contributorily negligent.
HELD: On the evidence, D had turned immediately after the oncoming vehicle had passed: he might have halted briefly, but it was more likely that he had assumed his passage was then clear and that his wheels had kept turning. Once the oncoming car had passed, D had turned in a way which struck witnesses as sudden, and it was likely that his car, being powerful and light, moved significantly faster than the average vehicle. D’s evidence as to when he turned on his indicator was contradictory. It had to be concluded that he had started indicating at the last moment once the oncoming car had passed and had not looked in his mirror properly, otherwise he would have seen B approaching him from behind. The probability was that, once the oncoming car had passed, D assumed that his passage was clear. There was no doubt that D had been negligent (see para.13 of judgment). (2) D had pulled out in front of B when he was only a short distance away, and B had had no chance of avoiding him.
The expert evidence showed that B was most likely travelling at 45 mph before the collision. Although B might have been able to apply his brakes, he did not have time to reduce his speed by much or to avoid a serious accident. That conclusion was supported by independent eyewitness evidence. B was travelling somewhat too fast, as the top safe speed would have been 35 mph in the circumstances. However, even at that speed there would have still been an accident in which B would have sustained serious injury. Accordingly, there was no contributory negligence (paras 14-15, 17-18 of judgment).
Judgment for claimant
 EWHC 2197 (QB)
MARCEL BEASLEY (BY HIS LITIGATION FRIEND CADELL BEASLEY) v PAUL ALEXANDER (2012)
QBD (Sir Raymond Jack) 27/07/2012
“Lawtel update” 13.08.12