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Court rules that cautious driver was as much to blame for accident as speedy motorcylist

Whitehead (by her litigation friend English) v (1) Bruce (2) Craig (3) Baxter (Court of Appeal, 21 March 2013)

The first defendant and the second defendant appealed against decisions finding them 50% and 20% liable for a road traffic accident, respectively.    

The Court heard that the claimant was riding pillion on a motorcycle that was being driven by the first defendant.    

As the first defendant rounded a bend in the road at a speed of approximately 55mph to 60mph, he saw the third defendant’s vehicle parked on a bend on the opposite side of the carriageway, where overtaking was forbidden.    

The first defendant was also confronted with the second defendant who was overtaking the third defendant’s vehicle on the wrong side of the road at a speed of less than 10mph.    

The first defendant took action to avoid a collision and, in so doing, seriously injured the claimant.    

The trial judge found that the first defendant rode with excessive speed and that the second defendant had overtaken the third defendant in a too cautious manner.  The third defendant was found to be 30% liable for parking in a dangerous place.    

On appeal, the finding of negligence was upheld.  However, the appeal on apportionment was allowed on the basis that the second defendant was equally as culpable as the first defendant having not completed her manoeuvre quickly.  Instead, she unreasonably delayed in returning to her lane.    

Liability was re-apportioned between the first defendant and the second defendant at 35% each.    

Comment – This case is a reminder that to travel too slowly can be equally as dangerous as travelling too fast.  The road layout must always be taken into account when considering liability.  Insurers must therefore be mindful that cautious driving is not equal to safe driving.    

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