Road traffic accidents are notoriously fact specific, but looking at those cases which go to trial can be helpful in terms of understanding what judges think is important. Here I look at three very different recent cases. In Jade Christian v. South East London & Kent Bus Co. the court reiterated that appellate courts have to exercise the greatest restraint before overturning findings of fact made at first instance. In Gray v. Botwright the Court of Appeal went against the general principle that drivers are entitled to assume that no traffic will be crossing against a red light. In Gupta v. Armstrong & Anor a coach driver who was carefully executing a manoeuvre and failed to see a pedestrian who was trying to flag him down to board was not found to have been negligent to any degree.
Jade Christian v. South East London & Kent Bus Co.  EWCA Civ 944
No basis for interfering with judge’s findings of fact where the judge had had the benefit of hearing the bus driver’s evidence and determined the reasonableness of his reactions
C had been a passenger on one of K’s buses which was travelling in the offside lane of a two-lane road, approaching a queue of standing traffic. C’s case was that the driver (D) performed a sudden emergency stop instead of slowing gradually as he got close to the back of the queue. C, who had been standing, was thrown forward and another passenger had fallen on her. As a result, she sustained a back injury. At trial the judge heard oral evidence from C and D, and he viewed CCTV footage and stills taken by the on-board cameras of the bus. D denied that he had approached the queue of traffic without slowing down and claimed that a red vehicle travelling in the nearside lane had tried to cut in front of him, forcing him to take evasive action and to perform an emergency braking manoeuvre. The judge preferred D’s evidence and found that D had not been negligent. He noted in particular that the CCTV footage showed the red vehicle passing the bus in the nearside lane and starting to move across to the offside lane in front of it. There was a four-second gap between the red vehicle starting to cross the white lines dividing the lanes and the bus coming to a stop. The judge concluded that the red vehicle was solely responsible for the accident, having caused D to brake.
The court held that:
- An appellate court had to exercise the greatest restraint before overturning findings of fact made at first instance.
- There was no basis on which to interfere with the judge’s considered findings of fact.
- The judge had had the advantage of hearing and assessing D’s evidence and had seen the CCTV footage and stills.
- His factual conclusions could not be said to be so obviously wrong or so outside the band of reasonable conclusions open to him that his judgment should be set aside.
- He had not taken irrelevant facts into account or wrongly applied the law.
- The judge had been entitled to conclude that whilst with hindsight D might have taken another course, he was not to be judged by too critical a standard.
- It would be wrong for the instant court to interfere with the judge’s findings of fact, even if a different judge might have come to a different view.
Gray v. Botwright (2014) CA (Civ Div) 09/07/2014
Liability for road traffic accident apportioned 50:50 where G turned right across a carriageway having assumed that no traffic would proceed through the junction against a red light
G had been driving towards a complicated junction. He was familiar with the junction and turned right across the carriageway when he knew that the traffic lights for oncoming vehicles would be red. He did not check to see whether any cars were approaching based on that assumption. In fact B had driven through a red light and a collision occurred. The district judge found that B had driven through a red light at a speed not greatly in excess of 30mph and that the accident had been solely caused by G’s negligence in failing to check for vehicles when turning right. He relied on Whittle v Bennett  EWCA Civ 1538, (2006) 150 S.J.L.B. 1467 and found that the coincidence of location fallacy applied whereby, by his negligent act, a person was in a position where an accident occurred but the occurrence of the accident was not within the scope of the duty of care which he breached when acting negligently.
G’s appeal was dismissed by a circuit judge.
G submitted that the district judge had erred in finding that G was solely responsible for the accident when he had found that B had been negligent, and that the case did not turn on the coincidence of location fallacy.
The court held that:
- G had made a positive decision not to check for traffic when he turned right because he inferred that the traffic light would be red and he assessed that no vehicles would be approaching.
- His decision to cross the carriageway without looking was an act of sheer folly.
- It was not sensible to assume without checking that no car was approaching and he had been negligent in failing to check for oncoming traffic.
- G’s actions had not, however, been the sole cause of the accident since B should not have been where he was at the point of impact and created a danger which the traffic lights he contravened were designed to prevent. Further, B should have slowed down as he approached the junction.
- Whittle fell to be distinguished since the whole purpose of the traffic lights was to ensure a regular flow of an appropriate number of vehicles through the junction at each stage.
- Both parties had driven badly and liability was apportioned 50:50.
Gupta v. Armstrong & Anor (2014) QBD 22/05/2014
Coach driver not negligent where pedestrian ran into the road when coach was turning left and tripped over the front wheel
G, a student, wished to board a bus provided by D2 to travel from one campus to another. D1 was driving the coach that G had wanted to board and ran over G’s leg. G’s case was that he waved to signal that he wanted to board the coach and made eye contact with D1. D1 pulled away nonetheless, drove to the end of the road and began to turn left before then stopping in the middle of the road. G, assuming that D1 had stopped for him, approached the coach and banged on the nearside passenger door, again making eye contact with D1, but D1 looked away and reversed. G stepped back tripping over the front wheel and the coach ran over his leg. D1’s case was that he drove towards the junction and then proceeded to turn left, carefully and slowly, having made the relevant checks, in one continuous movement. He felt a bump and got out of the coach and saw G on the ground. Four eyewitnesses gave broadly consistent evidence supporting D1’s case and suggesting that G had run into the road, tripped on the wheel of the coach and fallen backwards. Expert evidence stated that G would have to have been very close to the coach before he would have been seen by D1.
The court held that:
- The accident had not been D1’s fault.
- G had seen D1 driving away and had run along the pavement to catch up with him, but no eye contact was made.
- If G had reached the front door he would have only been there for a fraction of a second.
- D1 had taken care to look and use his mirrors before moving off, concentrated on the traffic, and ensured that he did not encroach on the pathway when turning.
- D1 had not been negligent in not seeing or hearing G. G had only tapped on the window and there was likely to have been noise inside the coach.
- If it had been necessary to consider contributory negligence, the instant case would have been one of those exceptional cases where the claimant would have been deemed to be more than 50 per cent negligent.