Duty of Care Surprisingly Limited

March 7, 2007

Duty of Care Surprisingly Limited

An interesting attempt at a defence came to nothing in a recent traffic accident case.
 
It involved a driver who, having missed his turning, decided to do a U-turn in the road. The visibility where he chose to carry out the manoeuvre was poor for drivers approaching from the other direction and an accident ensued.
 
The driver who made the turn was hit by the second of two approaching cars which were travelling together at high speed. The driver of the first car managed to avoid him, but the driver of the second car hit him, causing him a serious injury.
 
When the driver who was hurt sued for damages, the judge found that undertaking the U-turn in an unsafe place made him liable for his injuries through his own neglect or, if the driver of the car that struck him were liable, then there would be contributory negligence of 80 per cent (meaning damages awarded would be reduced by that percentage). In the judge’s view, the driver of the second oncoming car had owed a duty of care to maintain a safe distance between his car and the car in front of him. This did not extend to the car which made the U-turn however.
 
The injured man appealed against this decision, arguing that the judge was wrong in his view and that the driver of the second car did owe him a duty of care. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, agreeing that the driver of the second car would have been unable to stop even if he had not been driving as close as he was to the car in front of him.
 
Whilst in general a driver has a duty of care to all those who might reasonably be expected to be affected by his driving, in this case the judge in the lower court was entitled to take the view that the outcome would have been the same even if the second driver had not been driving too close to the car in front. The appeal was dismissed.