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Goundry v Hepworth, Court of Appeal, 30 November 2005

3 March 2006
The issues

Road Traffic – Child Running Into Path Of Car – Liability Of Motorist

The facts

On 18th October 1997 the Claimant who was 4 years old ran into the path of a car driven by the Defendant and suffered serious injuries. The accident occurred on a residential road subject to a 30 mph limit. The road was straight with a slight gradient. Vision was unobstructed. To the south of Wakefield Road there was a pedestrian passage leading to it from St Mary’s Avenue. To the right of the footway a pelican crossing was provided. To the left there was a pedestrian refuge.

At 5.30 in the afternoon in good light, a group of pedestrians including the Claimant and her mother arrived from the footway to the pavement edge intending to cross the road. The group included a friend of the Claimant’s mother, a teenager, and three other small children. The pelican crossing was ignored as was the refuge. The group waited to let traffic from the right hand side pass. They saw traffic to the left hand side in the form of two vehicles but the group stepped into the road and walked across it up to but short of the central broken white line. They waited there for one car being driven from their left to pass by in front of them. They were waiting for the second car driven by the Defendant who was driving at about 25 mph. The Defendant was aware of the group of 5 or 6 people. At some point the Claimant ran into the path of the Defendant’s car. All this happened in an instant. There was not time for Mrs Hepworth to avoid her. The Judge found that the Defendant had to bear some degree of negligence on the basis that she should have been more aware of the group and of the risks that it held and noting in particular that there were young children in the group.

The decision

The argument of the Claimant was that the Defendant driver should either have stopped altogether or driven very slowly towards the group to give the group enough time to get across the road. In reality if those were the only alternatives available it would have been dangerous for the Defendant not to have stopped completely having regard to the nature of the group crossing the road.

In effect to uphold the Judge’s decision the Court would have to find that the Defendant was negligent on the basis that her duty as a careful motorist required her to stop and to allow a group which had started to cross the road to complete its crossing.

This conclusion was not one the Court could uphold. The car in front of the Defendant had passed by the same group without stopping. Moreover the group was orderly and apparently under reasonable control waiting calmly for her to pass. Whilst some drivers might have stopped and ushered the group across, where the group included a group of adults and appreciating that it included small children apparently behaving impatiently waiting behind the white line, many motorists driving with reasonable care would not have thought it appropriate to stop.

Appeal allowed.

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