Court reiterates law in relation to road traffic accidents involving vulnerable road users

Gary Vincent v Gary Walker (1) & Vidionics Security Systems Ltd (2) [08.03.21]

In this recent case the claimant pedestrian was held wholly accountable for a road traffic accident. The decision reiterates that notwithstanding the high duty of care owed to vulnerable road users by motorists, being a vulnerable road user is not on its own sufficient to succeed in a claim in negligence in respect of a road traffic accident.

Background

The accident occurred on a late afternoon in November. The claimant, a pedestrian, was wearing dark clothes as he crossed a traffic light controlled road when the lights were showing green for motorists to proceed. He stepped from the central refuge into the road and was struck by a car driven by the defendant, having travelled two thirds of the way across the road. The claimant admitted to not paying attention while crossing the road. This was endorsed by an eye witness who said the claimant had not been looking as he crossed the road. Despite that the claimant brought a claim for significant compensation (in respect of a head injury) holding the defendant responsible for the accident.  

The defendant admitted he had not seen the claimant before he stepped into the road. He stated that the claimant’s dark clothes obscured his presence. The defendant stated to the police that he had been driving at approximately 45/50mph (the road had a speed limit of 50mph), and had reacted quickly when he saw the claimant but there was no time to take evasive action.

The claimant argued that the defendant had not acted as a reasonable and careful driver would do in that he was driving too quickly and he had not scanned to check for pedestrians crossing the road.

Accident reconstruction experts were instructed and agreed that the defendant was in fact probably travelling at 39-41mph when he first saw the claimant, consistent with the defendant having released his foot from the accelerator on the approach to the crossing, as was his usual practice.

Decision

The court was not satisfied that the claimant would have been visible to the defendant before he reached the central refuge, and even if he did, he would not reasonably have anticipated that the claimant would have ignored the green light for the motorists on the road and stepped into the path of oncoming traffic without looking. The court held that the defendant was driving at a reasonable speed and he had not failed to scan the road adequately. The case was therefore dismissed.

Comment

The approach applied by the court in this case is a helpful reminder that being a “vulnerable road user” is not enough to succeed in a claim. Some other recent decisions have bordered on a ‘counsel of perfection’ being required of drivers in collision with vulnerable road users. The approach has seemingly been moving towards a presumed liability or strict liability position in such accidents, allowing claimants to succeed when there was little, if anything, a reasonable motorist could have done.

Whilst it is unquestionably right that vulnerable road users are protected against the negligence of others, that should not extend to circumstances where such road users can operate without any regard for their own safety, failing to abide by even the most basic road safety measures. Insurers should always have in mind that it is for the claimant to prove negligence.