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Goad v Butcher, Court of Appeal, 22 February 2011

10 March 2011
The issues

Road traffic – motorcyclist – relevance of breach of the Highway Code to liability.

The facts

In June 2006 the Claimant was riding his motorcycle along the B1411 from Little Downham towards Ely, when he collided with a tractor and low-loader trailer driven by Mr Butcher. The Claimant was seriously injured as a result.

The accident happened when Mr Butcher was turning right off the B1411 into a lane called Cowbridge Hall Road. The junction lay at the crown of a gentle bend to the left when travelling from Ely towards Little Downham. The road had a 30mph speed limit, increasing to 40mph some distance from the junction with Cowbridge Hall Road.

The entrance to the road was splayed and divided, having slip roads with entry and exit lines on each side of a triangular area of grass. Immediately before the accident Mr Butcher was approaching the road from the direction of Ely, preparing to turn right into the first entry lane. He had been driving at about 16mph but had slowed to about 4mph to make the turn. He indicated and began his turn about 10 meters from the centre point of the entry to the lane nearer to him. He cut the corner – his tractor and trailer entering the exit rather than the entry lane on that side of the island. At the point where he began his turn he could see for 110 meters along the road and at that point Mr Goad was not in sight. If he had started the turn opposite the centre line and therefore not cut the corner, he would have been able to see for a distance of 130 meters.

Mr Goad, on seeing the tractor and trailer crossing the road ahead of him, braked hard. The experts agreed he was travelling at between 55mph – 65mph. As a result of his heavy braking the motorcycle began to skid and he lost control. The bike continued in a straight line, leaving the road and passing across the grass of the island before colliding with the tractor. Mr Goad came to rest underneath the front of the trailer. At that point Mr Butcher had almost completed the turn. The experts had agreed that Mr Goad would have had room to pass behind it safely if he had not lost control.

Mr Goad brought an action against Mr Butcher for personal injuries. He said that Mr Butcher had either been negligent in failing to see him and to give way or, if he had seen him, had been negligent in failing to give way. The Judge found that Mr Goad was driving too fast and was entirely to blame for the accident and dismissed the claim.

Mr Goad Appealed.

On Appeal, the main thrust of the Claimant’s argument was that Mr Butcher was negligent in starting the turn too early, failing to reach the point at which his view of oncoming traffic would have been at its best and in consequence, failing to observe the road markings at the entrance to Cowbridge Hall Road and cutting the corner, contrary to paragraph 156 of the Highway Code.

The decision

A failure to observe the Code might be evidence of negligence but whether it was would depend very much on the circumstances in which the act was committed. It might also depend on who the Claimant was. In this case, cutting the corner would have been negligent towards any road user seeking to leave Cowbridge Hall Road in the direction of Ely, but would not have been negligent towards a road user seeking to leave by the other slip road in the direction of Little Downham.

It was not legitimate to argue that if Mr Butcher had not cut the corner both he and Mr Goad would have been in different places when he began the turn and the accident would have happened. That was simply to postulate a different set of facts which were not linked in any causative way to a breach of duty on the part of Mr Butcher to Mr Goad. It was an impermissible line of reasoning. The real issue was whether it was negligent of Mr Butcher to make the turn into Cowbridge Hall Road at the time and place he did. He had a duty to act as a reasonably prudent and careful driver undertaking a manoeuvre. In particular he had a duty to act as a reasonably prudent and careful driver of a slow moving and lengthy vehicle. When undertaking a manoeuvre which necessarily involved obstructing the oncoming lane, he had to take account of not only the length and speed of his own vehicle but of the risk that there might be another road user then out of sight who was close enough to come into view as soon as he started making the turn. He also had to make allowance for the fact that that road user might be exceeding the speed limit. It was arguable that he should not have undertaken the manoeuvre without putting himself in the best possible position to assess the risks posed to traffic as far as the layout of the road allowed. In that case that meant proceeding to a point opposite the entrance lane of the slip road where his visibility would be an additional 20 meters. That however was a counsel of perfection and a driver would not be held negligent simply for failing to achieve that. In the circumstances, visibility of 110 meters was sufficient on what was a bright summers day with a dry road and Mr Butcher was not negligent in failing to foresee that Mr Goad might be travelling at a speed so far in excess of the limit on the outskirts of the village that he would be unable to control his machine and avoid a collision.

Appeal dismissed.

(Lord Justice Jackson dissented on the basis that it was negligent to cut this particular corner in these particular circumstances, although he would have reduced the Claimant’s damages by 75% for contributory negligence.)

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