This is an interesting decision from the English Courts delivered exactly 7 years after a collision involving a car and a motorcyclist carrying a pillion. Unfortunately, all three were seriously injured, but as the pillion sustained severe brain injuries, an anonymity order was granted so that all parties would not be named.

So, what happened?

The road traffic incident

On 16th March 2014, a motorcyclist was riding his Suzuki Bandit GDF 600 north on the A642 Wakefield Road in Rothwell, with his partner as pillion. He was travelling at around 55mph, which was 5mph below the National speed limit.

Ahead of the motorcyclist was the driver of a Ford Ka. The motorcyclist witnessed the driver steer her car off the carriageway and into a lay-by on the nearside. He thought her driving to be odd, given her lack of indication and therefore decided that she was either going to stop and open her door or re-join the carriageway.

Having made this assessment, the motorcyclist eased off his throttle and moved to the centre of the carriageway. As he did so, he checked over his right shoulder to ensure a following motorcyclist would not be affected by his actions. In that short moment of checking over his shoulder, the driver moved back out onto the carriageway in an attempt to execute a U-turn.

The motorcyclist had no time to take evasive action and a collision occurred. All parties were seriously injured in the collision, with the pillion sustaining the worst injuries, including a severe brain injury. The pillion rider subsequently commenced civil proceedings against the driver of the car and, on winning her case, received a substantial award of damages.

Contribution claim

This case, decided 7 years after the collision, was an attempt by the driver’s insurance company to seek a contribution from the motorcyclist’s insurance company based on him allegedly being partly to blame for the collision.

The driver acknowledged that her U-turn manoeuvre in the circumstances was indeed negligent, and that she should therefore bear a greater burden of responsibility. However, she also believed that the motorcyclist had been partly at fault. Along with her insurance company, she contended that the motorcyclist had been 20% responsible for the incident and that should be the amount of his contribution to the settlement of his pillion’s case.

The driver alleged that the motorcyclist had failed to reduce his speed sufficiently and had taken his eyes off her car after he had openly considered her actions to be ‘suspicious’.

In terms of speed, the motorcyclist informed the police that he had reduced his speed to 40mph when the driver had entered the lay-by. Accident reconstruction evidence confirmed that this seemed to be unlikely, and instead it was agreed by the accident reconstruction experts that the motorcyclist would more likely have been travelling at around 55mph.

The motorcyclist argued that he had identified the car as a potential hazard, assessed the risk posed and reacted in two ways (easing off his throttle and moving into the centre of the carriageway). These actions should have been sufficient to avoid the collision if the driver had acted as he had predicted. In addition, the motorcyclist argued that there was nothing to ever suggest that the driver was going to execute a U-turn manoeuvre.

In court, the driver’s arguments against the motorcyclist were unsuccessful. The arguments were essentially:

• The motorcyclist should have foreseen the driver would have performed a U-turn
• As such, he should have reduced his speed
• He did not keep his eye on her vehicle the whole time but chose to take the time to look over his shoulder before moving to a central position.

Dismissing all arguments, the Judge stated that he did not accept that the motorcyclist’s standard of riding had fallen below a reasonable standard, even bearing in mind he had been carrying a pillion. The driver’s assertions of what the motorcyclist should have done amounted to a counsel of perfection. In the end, the driver had attempted to execute a U-turn on a major road with a motorcyclist travelling behind and was entirely at fault.

MOTORIST 100% AT FAULT

Read the full decision here

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