Motor insurance update

11 Jun 2012

Motor Insurance update: Bus operator held responsible for injury to pedestrian crossing against red light. 

In the case of SATNAM REHILL v RIDER HOLDINGS LTD (2012) the Court of Appeal decided that a bus company was liable for personal injury sustained by a pedestrian.  It was decided that the pedestrian would not have been run over had the bus driver braked promptly. However, the pedestrian, in attempting to cross a pedestrian crossing when the lights were red, was 50 per cent contributorily negligent.

The background to this case was that the Claimant had stepped off the nearside pavement onto a controlled pedestrian crossing and started to cross in front of the bus, even though the pedestrian crossing lights were red. The Claimant was hit by the bus and, by the time it stopped, its front wheel had gone over him, causing him serious crush injuries. The bus driver stated that the speed of the bus had been between 3 mph and 5 mph when the collision occurred.

The first judge decided that a reasonably careful bus driver would have noticed the Claimant as he left the kerb. He also decided that the speed of the bus was 4mph and that, if the driver had braked when he should have, the bus wheel would not have gone over the Claimant, even though it might have touched him. In coming to that conclusion the first judge looked at CCTV footage from within the bus in order to calculate the time at which the Claimant stepped off the pavement and the time at which the collision occurred, and also made an allowance of 1.5 seconds for thinking time from the moment when the Claimant stepped off the pavement to the moment when he decided the driver should have applied the brakes. The first judge assessed the Claimant's contributory negligence at one-third.

On appeal the Court of Appeal decided there was a clear breach of duty by the bus driver in failing to brake as quickly as he should have done. The issue was whether it had been shown that the wheel would not have gone over the Claimant  if the driver had braked promptly. The first judge was entitled to find that the driver ought to have noticed the Claimant as he stepped off the pavement. Also, there was nothing wrong with allowing 1.5 seconds for thinking time from the moment the Claimant stepped off the pavement to the moment when the driver should have applied the brakes.

The CCTV evidence suggested that the time at which the Claimant stepped off the pavement was earlier than the time applied by the judge in calculating when the driver should have braked. Further, the first judge's decision as to the time of impact, based on the CCTV footage of a passenger's reaction in the bus, was a conclusion that he was entitled to reach on the balance of probabilities. The finding that the bus was travelling at 4mph was also reasonably open to him. There was no force in the expressed concern as to the degree of precision with which the first judge calculated where the bus would have stopped had the driver applied the brakes when he should have since liability would have been established even with a longer stopping distance. Therefore, there was no proper basis for departing from the first judge's findings that the driver's negligence was causative of the Claimant's injuries. 

The Court of Appeal also decided that the Claimant's actions in stepping into the road when the red light was showing and the bus was so close was the result of more than misjudgement or simple failure to check. The Claimant was seriously blameworthy and his lack of care made the collision inevitable. However, the really serious injuries arose not from the initial impact but from the wheel of the bus going over him, which was caused by the lack of prompt braking. This case was not one where the pedestrian should be found more responsible than the driver for his injuries, Karen Janet Eagle (by Her Step-father and Litigation Friend, Ernest Edward Giles) v Garth Maynard Chambers 2003 considered. Overall, the appropriate apportionment for contributory negligence was 50 per cent.

This case reflects the ongoing approach of the courts to consistently place a high burden on drivers to reflect the fact that vehicles are potentially dangerous weapons.  In Eagle v Chambers the Court of Appeal stated that it would be rare for a pedestrian to be found more responsible than a driver unless a pedestrian suddenly moves into the path of an oncoming vehicle. This case suggests drivers need to be on the lookout for pedestrians including those who may cross against the lights.  A high burden indeed.