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Ahanonu v South East London & Kent Bus Company Ltd, Court of Appeal, 23 January 2008

7 April 2008
The issues

Road Traffic accident – RTA – pedestrian squashed between bus and bollard.

The facts

On the 7th December 2002 the Claimant, aged about 18, was squashed between the Defendant’s double-decker bus and a bollard on the road on the carriageway from Peckham Bus Station to Peckham High Street. The accident took place at the exit road from the bus station where there was a right angle corner turning left for buses leaving the bus station with the carriageway protected by railings.

Liability had been admitted but the Defendants were given permission to resile from their admission of liability shortly before the Trial.

In order to leave the bus station the driver had to go along an access road towards Peckham High Street. He had to go over a pedestrian crossing inside the bus station. 15 meters after the pedestrian crossing the driver had to negotiate a left hand right angled bend 21 meters before the junction with Peckham High Street. It was a very tight bend, particularly given that buses would be coming into the bus station from the opposite direction. There was a metal bollard just before the left hand corner. There were warning signs attached to the railings which said “Warning. Buses turning. Pedestrians must keep to the footways.” The Claimant said that she had been walking along Peckham High Street to the bus station to get a bus to come home. As she got to the entrance of the bus station some of her notes blew into the carriageway and as a result she left the path and went onto the carriageway side of the railings to try and recover the papers. It was at that point that the bus collided with her. The Defendant’s driver admitted that he did not see the Claimant before the collision because his attention was only brought to it by some other pedestrian banging on the back of his bus. In the police report following the accident the Defendant said that at the time he was keeping an eye on the bus in front in case it suddenly stopped. The Defendant’s case had been that the accident had happened in a very different manner to the way the Claimant said. The evidence of a driver from a different bus company immediately behind the Defendant’s bus was to the effect that the Claimant had been crossing the exit road by the zebra crossing and instead of staying on the crossing to arrive safely at the footway where she would be protected by the railings, she had cut across and come up behind the bus which was either moving slowly or was stationary because it was blocked by a bus ahead.

The Judge accepted the independent driver’s evidence and found that the Defendant’s bus was moving only very slowly or was stationary and also accepted the independent witnesses evidence on the circumstances of the accident. He found that the Claimant had not been telling the truth, that she had had a reason for not so doing because she had in fact spent the three hours between the library closing and the accident with a young man who was not her boyfriend, although she had a boyfriend at the time.

The Trial Judge found for the Claimant in that the driver had accepted that he had not see the Claimant; that he had not mentioned checking his near side mirror at the time when he gave his statements to the police and his employers in December 2002; and that the Judge preferred this evidence to the evidence the driver had given in the witness box; and that, in not checking his near side rear view mirrors sufficiently frequently he had fallen below the standard of a reasonably competent bus driver. He found that the Claimant was contributorily negligent to the extent of 50%.

The Defendant appealed.

The decision

The Judge had not taken sufficient account of the following matters. Firstly, the Claimant was probably moving and indeed may have been moving fast at the time of the accident. Secondly, even if pedestrians used the carriageway, the Defendant’s driver had no reason to think there would be anyone at the rear side of his bus. He had just driven around the corner with the front of his bus and there had been nobody there to be seen. Thirdly, whilst it was not open to the Court to interfere with the Judge’s finding that the driver did not look into his rear view mirror at all or sufficiently, the Judge was wrong on his finding that the driver should have kept an eye on his near side mirror because this was a counsel of perfection and ignored the realities of the situation. There was a far more obvious and real danger, namely the bus in front. If he had taken his eyes off of the bus immediately in front there could have been a very serious accident. An overall evaluation of the circumstances called inevitably for a finding that there was no negligence.

Appeal allowed.

Comments

Lord Justice Laws gave a very short concurring Judgment and commented that “There is sometimes a danger in cases of negligence that the Court may evaluate the standard of care owed by the Defendant by reference to fine considerations elicited in the leisure of the Court room, perhaps with the liberal use of hind sight. The obligation thus constructed can look more like a guarantee of the Claimant’s safety than a duty to take reasonable care.”

My thanks to Tim Buddin of QBE who brought this case to my attention.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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