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Stewart v Glaze, High Court, 2009

14 May 2009
The issues

Liddell v Middleton – Ahanonu v South East London & Kent Bus Company Ltd.

Role of expert evidence in road traffic claims – role of the Judge in road traffic claims – pedestrian hit by motorist – contributory negligence.

The facts

The Claimant, with Mr Marfleet had been out drinking. Mr Marfleet estimated that they had each drunk between 5 – 7 pints. Although they were drunk, they were not so drunk that they could not walk. They took a bus home. When they got off, for some reason they sat down at the bus stop talking. The weather was fine. The road surface was dry. There was street lighting. The bus shelter was visible to a motorist at about 95 meters away and remained visible for about 20 meters, until it was blocked out for 10 meters or so by a large yew tree. The speed limit was 30mph. The Defendant knew the road reasonably well. He knew that potentially this was an area where people who had been drinking might be. He did not think however it was “a hazard”. As the driver came around the corner he saw people at the bus stop. He was travelling at about 30mph. Mr Marfleet said that in the middle of the conversation they had been having, Mr Stewart got up and walked from the bus stop to the kerb and onto the road. Mr Marfleet did not know why he did this. He looked up to see Mr Glaze’s car at the last minute. Mr Glaze thought Mr Stewart was running towards him.

The decision

The standard to be applied to Mr Glaze was the standard of the reasonable driver. It was important to ensure the Court was not guided by “20/20 hindsight”. In Ahanonu, the Court of Appeal had remarked of a danger in the cases of negligence that the Court “might 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 hindsight”. Equally, it was important to remember that a car was potentially a dangerous weapon and that those who drove cars owed clear duties of care to those around them.

In this case accident reconstruction experts had been instructed. In Liddell v Middleton the Court had emphasised that the function of the expert was to give the Judge the necessary scientific criteria and assistance based upon his skill and experience to enable the Judge to interpret the factual evidence of the marks on the road or the damage or whatever it might be. The expert was not entitled to draw factual conclusions, which were matters for the Trial Judge, based on the evidence that he accepted and the inferences that could be drawn from the primary facts.

The expert evidence comprised a useful way in which the factual evidence and the inferences to be drawn from it could be tested. It was however primary factual evidence which was of the greatest importance in case of this kind. On the evidence, Mr Glaze had been keeping to the speed limit and maintaining an all round lookout. His reactions when he saw Mr Stewart were entirely adequate but because of Mr Stewart’s inexplicable action in running into the road and at the car, he was unable to prevent the collision. He could not be criticised for failing to prevent his car from colliding with Mr Stewart in the road.

Had the Judge’s decision been otherwise, the proper apportionment of contributory negligence would have been 25% to Mr Glaze and 75% to Mr Stewart.

Claim dismissed.

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