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Stoddart v Perucca, Court of Appeal, 1 March 2011

21 March 2011
The issues

Causative potency – blameworthiness – contributory negligence – road traffic – horse – horses.

The facts

In June 2002 on a summer’s evening, the Claimant, who was 14 was riding her horse ‘Trigger’ with her friend along a bridleway near Sunderland. The bridleway met Burden Lane, in respect of which the speed limit was 60mph. They needed to cross the lane. The Claimant’s friend crossed safely. She was not immediately followed by the Claimant, who had been held back to practice a jump before following the friend. In the interval between the two horses crossing, the Defendant drove down Burden Land in his Ford campervan with a trailer behind it. He came across the Claimant coming from the bridleway in circumstances that made a collision unavoidable. The Claimant’s horse reared and fell, throwing the Claimant and subsequently falling on the Claimant, injuring her.

The matter came before the Judge who found that the Claimant was an experienced rider and Trigger, a dependable horse. At the point of the collision, the Claimant had a view of about 300 meters to the right. Evidence from at least one of the following drivers prior to the collision was to the effect that on seeing the first horse, the driver slowed, knowing from experience that horse riders often travelled in pairs. The Judge found that the Defendant was driving at about 40mph and that he had slowed when he had seen the first rider cross the road, but had then speeded up a little and had not allowed for the possibility of a second rider emerging. When the Claimant did emerge the Trial Judge found that she was going at a fast walk or a trot. The Trial Judge found that the Defendant was liable for failing to appreciate the possibility of a second horse emerging and then speeding up before reaching the bridleway and that had he been doing even a few miles per hour slower, the likelihood was that he would have stopped without impact. He assessed contributory negligence at 50%. In doing so, he considered both blameworthiness and causative effect. The Defendant sought to Appeal as to liability and apportionment but was denied permission to Appeal on liability.

The decision

A car was a potentially lethal instrument which required great care in its handling. In Lundt v Khelifa [2002] the Court of Appeal had noted that the Court had consistently imposed on the drivers of cars a high burden to reflect the fact that cars were potentially dangerous weapons. The Trial Judge had made a realistic appraisal of blameworthiness as being greater in the Claimant than in the Defendant but had noted that he was required by law to adjust that apportionment for the relative potency of the vehicles involved in the accident. In using the term “vehicles” reference had to be made to both horse and car in that horses too are capable of doing a great deal of damage.

The Judge had also rightly taken into account the fact that although the driver was not driving recklessly, he had made a significant error of judgment in not taking caution from the emergence of one horse and slowing down to allow for the possible emergence of another. He was entitled to conclude the contributory fault was at the level of 50%.

Appeal dismissed.

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