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Bland v Morris, Court of Appeal, 18th January 2006

15 February 2006
The issues

Road Traffic – Contribution – Apportionment Of Blame – Coach Driver Negligently Obstructing A Dual Carriageway When Lorry Driver Collided With The Coach Causing Injury To Passengers – Creating A Dangerous Situation – Causation

The facts

On 21st August 2000 an articulated lorry struck the rear of a stationary coach. The coach was carrying 40 RAF Cadets and 6 adults. Three cadets were killed and a number injured, one very seriously. Agreement had been reached in respect of compensation with all of whom had been injured or with the estates of those who had died. Proceedings were brought by the lorry driver, Mr Bland and his employers, Rathbones against the MOD and Mrs Morris the coach driver. Mrs Morris in turn claimed a contribution from the Part 20 Defendant. The Part 20 Defendant was the driver of a second lorry.

The Part 20 Defendant who came from Spain and was driving a left hand drive articulated Volvo lorry had pulled out from a service station back on to the main road using the slipway. As he came on to the slip way part of his vehicle was protruding into the carriageway. At the same time Mrs Morris was being overtaken by an articulated vehicle in her right hand lane. As she passed the curtain of the offside of the Part 20 Defendant’s trailer struck her nearside mirror. She drove on about 100 metres and stopped on the edge of the road possibly with her nearside wheels off the road. The driver of the Spanish lorry stopped as well. They engaged in a conversation. Neither spoke each other’s language and so they both went back to their respective vehicles.

Mrs Morris went back to the coach to advise everyone to get off saying something to the effect that they were sitting ducks on the coach. Mr Bland came on the scene in his lorry. He saw an articulated vehicle in the exit from the service station protruding in the carriageway and the Part 20’s vehicle parked at the end of the exit slip road. After he had gone by he looked back at them in his mirror and saw a car coming outside him in his offside lane. He failed to see the coach until he was very close. He swerved and his cab shaved the off side corner. The trailer following his lorry caught it more fully and did terrible damage. An eye witness gave evidence that he had seen hazard lights on the Part 20 vehicle stationary at a junction. Mrs Morris was an experienced HGV licensed driver but had received no training as to what to do in the event of an accident. She was familiar with the road. She was travelling at about 40 mph at the time of the first accident. When she stopped there was a lay by further ahead. She did not see the sign indicating that it was ahead and if she had done she would have gone on to it. She gave evidence that although she had not realised it at the time, she realised afterwards that it had been a thoroughly dangerous place to stop. She had put her hazard lights on. Mr Bland according to his tachograph had been driving at 53 mph dropping very gradually to 49 mph at the time of the collision with the coach. The speed limit on the road was 70 mph for cars, 60 mph for coaches and 50 mph for heavy goods vehicles. The accident had happened a little before 9.30 pm when it was not quite fully dark. The road did not have lights. Mrs Morris was convicted for dangerous driving. Mr Bland was acquitted of dangerous driving and convicted of driving without due care.

The High Court Judge apportioned blame in respect of the first accident 60% to Mr Penarrubia and 40% to Mrs Morris. As between Mr Bland and Mrs Morris the Judge apportioned liability one third to Mr Bland and two thirds to Mrs Morris with Mr Penarrubia indemnifying Mrs Morris as to 20% of her liability. Mr Penarrubia did not appeal. Mrs Morris appealed.

The decision

1. Although that it will normally follow that where a following driver runs into a visible and stationary obstruction, the following driver will bear the greater blame. This in no sense amounts to a convention. Each case turns on its own individual facts. There was nothing in the Judge’s judgment to show that he did not properly assess the totality of Mr Bland’s negligence. Once the coach crashed Mrs Morris gave no thought to the question of dealing with the safety of her passengers but departed quickly to find Mr Penarrubia. If she had decided that she was not going to move the coach and ordered the passengers to get off, the Judge was entitled to find that the exercise could have been completed as he did. She did nothing to avoid the danger which she had created.

2. As the driver of the coach, she had a direct responsibility for the 40 cadets and other passengers which Mr Bland did not. The Judge was entitled to take this into account as a factor which distinguished this case from others. It was an important factor and made it quite different from the normal situation where a driver drives into the back of another vehicle. Although the Judgment of the Court in hearing this matter at first instance the Court might have been persuaded to find both sides equally to blame, the Court was not persuaded that the Judge’s apportionment was wrong.

3. Generally in road traffic cases parties should remember the view of the Court of Appeal as expressed in Morris v Luton Corporation in 1945, namely that no one case is exactly like another and no principle of law could be extracted from such cases. Judges should avoid the temptation to decide questions of fact in language which appears to lay down some rule which users of the road must observe. Road traffic cases were generally fact sensitive. Parties should remember this when considering appeals to the Court of Appeal seeking to challenge what are essentially findings of fact and judgement by Judges who had heard the case and listed to the witnesses.

Appeal dismissed.

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