By Bronia Hartley
Wooldridge v George (2017) QBD (Judge Walden-Smith) 23/01/2017
The driver of a car, who was not distracted and was driving at only 20mph, was negligent in failing to see a pedestrian who, in drink, walked out into the road in front of her car.
The claimant pedestrian [W] brought a claim in negligence against the defendant driver [G].
W was struck by a car driven by G and suffered a severe brain injury. W had been crossing the road late at night from one pub to another and had been drinking. He had stepped out into the road and been struck by G’s car. Although G had not been distracted in any way, and had only been driving at 20 miles per hour, she did not see him before the impact. An eyewitness [P] had seen W walk into the road and then in front of G’s car. There were also two accident reconstruction experts who had provided a joint report on the likely speed and positioning of G’s car.
In attributing liability 70% to G and 30% to W the court held:
- G was a careful driver and had not been distracted. Nonetheless she had not seen W before she struck him. On the evidence before the court W had been in the road for at least six seconds before stepping in front of G’s car. G had been travelling at no more than 20 miles per hour. W had therefore already been walking across the carriageway when she was 20 metres away. The carriageway was well lit and although W had been wearing dark clothing his face and arms were bare and were in contrast to the dark road. There was nothing that prevented him from being visible. On the evidence the court was satisfied that G ought to have seen him from approximately six metres away, and that she ought at that point to have taken action to avoid him. An emergency stop was not required, but the slightest change to G’s steering would have meant that she could have avoided him. W had not just suddenly stepped out into the road; he had been in the road for some time. Although there were few people on the street due to the lateness of the hour, the incident had occurred at a junction and a reasonably careful driver would have used common sense to consider that it was likely that people would be seeking to cross the road.
- The driver of a car had more responsibility than a pedestrian as a car could be a dangerous weapon. The fact that W had been intoxicated was not in itself a reason for a finding of contributory negligence, Owens v Brimmell  Q.B. 859 considered. The question was whether he had put himself in a position to be hurt. There was some contributory negligence by reason of his behaviour but it did not matter that he was drunk. His carelessness had not been the main cause of the accident. The cause was G driving the car into a collision with him. He was in the road and she ought to have seen him, in which case she would have been able to avoid him. G had been negligent in failing to see him. A reasonably careful driver would have seen and avoided him. Undoubtedly W had contributed to the accident. He had been drinking and he had possibly misjudged the speed and location of G’s car. He had some responsibility but he had already been in the road as G approached and the greater blame fell on G as she had somehow failed to recognise what was before her.