Accidents, acronyms and the apportionment of blame
- By James Ferguson
Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) used to be a thing. They then came to be known as Road Traffic Collisions (RTCs). It is all about fault and blame, a question of liability. The High Court recently considered such a question for a 2015 pile up on the M20 in Kent.
A series of crashes happened within a few minutes before dawn on 15 October 2015 on a stretch of unlit motorway.
- The parties included: the claimant driver of an Audi TT (A), his passenger (B), a white van driver (C), another white van driver (D), a red HGV driver (E) and (F) a blue HGV driver.
- D fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the back of F (#1).
- E came upon the scene shortly after in lane 1, moving to lane 3 to avoid D and F.
- As E entered lane 3, A swerved from lane 3 to lane 2 to avoid E, colliding with D (#2) and ricocheted to hit the rear of E (#3).
- A and B made their way on foot to the grass verge. C then crashed into D in lane 2 (#4) and spun into A and B.
D was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment for dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
Although D conceded negligence for #1, it was contended that this was “…not the sole legal cause of the subsequent collisions and the resulting damages and injuries.” No injuries were sustained until collision #4. Accordingly, D sought to apportion some of the blame to C.
“agony of the moment”
…the Court should not require the same standard of care from a party who is forced to exercise judgment in the agony of the moment as it may do from a party who reaches a decision without being subjected to such pressures.
The judge cited with approval the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Wright v Lodge (1993):
…Causation depends on common sense and not on theoretical analysis by a philosopher or metaphysician … Not every cause ‘without which not’ or ‘but for’ is regarded as a relevant cause in law. The judge or jury must choose, by the application of common sense, the cause (or causes) to be regarded as relevant.
The court considered the circumstances in detail before concluding:
…the negligent driving of [D] was the sole relevant cause of the damage and injuries sustained by the Claimants in these cases. I do not reach any finding that either [A] or [C] acted negligently. Accordingly, no questions of apportionment of liability arise.
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