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Slater v Buckingham County Council And Another, Court of Appeal, 10 November 2004

16 November 2004
The issues

Road Traffic Accident – Whether Local Authority Liable For Accident To Disabled Person Where They Organised A Mini Bus Collection Service.

The facts

Paul Slater was a 25 year old man who suffered from downs syndrome. At 8.00 a.m. on the 28th August 1996 he was knocked down by a car when crossing the road outside the house where he lived with his parents. He suffered catastrophic injuries. There was no claim against the driver of the car. He spent each weekday at Hillcrest Day Centre operated by Buckinghamshire County Council. It was four miles away from where he lived. He went there and back by minibus collected at 8.00 a.m. and set down later in the afternoon. The minibus was operated by the Second Defendant Mr Stigwood. He provided a driver and an escort. The bus took about 12 people. Buckinghamshire contracted with Mr Stigwood to provide this service.

The road in question was a single carriageway with a 40 mph speed limit. At 8.00 a.m. it was a busy road. The minibus arriving to collect Paul Slater stopped on the opposite side of the road from his house. It stopped on the opposite side so its nearside access door would be adjacent to a pavement. The escort got out of the bus and went to its rear. She saw Paul on the pavement waiting to cross. She said that she told him to stay there. She said this twice. However the second time he had already started to run out. He was hit by the car. Her evidence was confirmed by Paul’s mother. The Judge found that Mrs Brooks had not been negligent. The Claimant suing by the Official Solicitor appealed. The Claimant argued that Mr Stigwood and the County Council had failed in their duty by allowing an unsafe system for collecting him. The Judge found that the contract between the County Council and Mr Stigwood did not include collection in each case from the door of the disabled person’s house. He also found that there was no specific agreement that the designated pickup point for Paul was on the pavement on the opposite side of the road to his house but did find that the settled arrangement was that that was his pickup point and if he was not there the escort, would cross the road and collect him from the pavement outside his house and escort him across the road. The Judge found that Paul was impetuous and unpredictable because of his learning difficulties but he would also obey instructions especially from Mrs Brooks.

The decision

The main criticism by the Appellant was that the Judge’s conclusions were contrary to the evidence. There was evidence of a previous “near miss” that evidence had to be seen in the context of the witness stating that in four years he had only seen Paul cross on his own two or three times.

The Appellant argued that the system was unsafe in that Paul should never have been allowed to cross the road without a responsible adult and that the arrangements for collecting him were haphazard. A system should have been devised whereby he was collected each morning from the house itself. However there was clearly a degree of flexibility in the contract between Mr Stigwood and the County Council which rightfully dealt with the fact that the clients had varying abilities.

There was clear evidence that Paul had reached a level of road safety competence enabling him to cross the road in reasonable safety even in the morning rush hour. Although there was some conflicting testimony and even inconsistency on the part of individual witnesses the Court of Appeal would be slow to overturn the findings of fact on the basis of transcripts of evidence which they had not heard being given orally and should not overturn it unless it was clear that the Judge’s finding was not open to him on the evidence. There was no evidence that Paul was in someway confused about the flexibility in the arrangements for collecting him. They did not amount to a defect in the system. Appeal dismissed.

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