Can someone injured whilst committing a criminal act claim damages? A recent decision says no.
Beaumont and O’Neill v Ferrer  EWHC 2398 (QB)
Two seventeen year old Claimants, Beaumont (B) and O’Neill (O), conspired with others to take a taxi from Salford to Manchester city centre and to make off without payment.
In the first instance the plan worked- as the taxi came to a stop in Manchester city centre three of the youths escaped and ran away. The taxi driver, Mr Ferrer (F), appreciating that the remaining youths did not intend to pay, decided to continue driving with B and O in the taxi in order to avoid losing out on the fare he was owed. B and O then jumped from the moving taxi and sustained serious injuries as a result of their falls.
B and O sued F in negligence and made the following arguments:
- F owed a duty of care to his passengers to ensure their safety and wellbeing;
- The doctrine of ex turpi causa did not apply as there was no turpitude;
- Even if B and O were engaged in criminal activity, ex turpi causa did not apply; and
- Any offending was not of such gravity as to engage the public policy of ex turpi causa.
Mr Justice Kenneth Parker did not accept those arguments. It was held that F had not done anything to cause B and O to jump from the moving taxi. The learned judge also highlighted that even if F acted in breach of his duty by continuing to drive on as he did, that driving did not cause the Claimant’s injuries. Rather, B and O’s injuries were caused by their own foolish decision to jump from a moving taxi; volenti non fit injuria.
The learned judge also found that B and O had committed an offence under section 3 of the Theft Act 1978 by participating in a criminal joint enterprise with their co-conspirators to make off without payment. In those circumstances it was held that B and O’s claims for damages must fail under the doctrine of ex turpi causa (illegality) – their injuries were caused by their own criminal conduct in the course of attempting to evade payment (as opposed to situations whereby a Claimant’s criminal conduct merely provides the occasion for the injury/damage/loss to be inflicted upon him).
This decision must be commended for upholding common values; a victory for poetic justice. More importantly, it highlights the distinction between situations whereby ex turpi causa will prevent a Claimant from succeeding in a claim for damages (when their injury/damage/loss was caused by their own criminal conduct) and those where it will not (when their criminal conduct merely provides the occasion for the injury/damage/loss to be inflicted upon him).
The distinction is one of causation and must be kept in mind when dealing with a claim arising from circumstances such as these.