Stephen Crouch became very intoxicated while at a BBQ. His friends instructed a taxi driver to take him home, but when the driver was unable to locate the address he left Crouch lying on the footpath. Crouch wandered some distance from where he had been left, before being struck by two vehicles on a nearby motorway. He died as a result of serious head injuries.
The first vehicle left the scene and the driver could not be identified. The second vehicle stopped. Crouch’s wife brought proceedings on behalf of his children alleging liability against the taxi driver, the taxi company and both drivers. It was alleged that the taxi driver was liable for negligence and in contract for failing to deliver Crouch home safely.
The Court found that the taxi driver had breached the duty of care it owed the deceased by failing to confirm his address and by leaving him on the side of the road in a drunken state. In reaching this decision, the Court noted that taxi drivers serve a social utility by transporting inebriated passengers and the standard of care should not be reduced on the basis that Crouch’s intoxication was voluntary. Further, the Court held that there were express and implied terms in the contract between Crouch and the taxi driver that he be taken home safely and the taxi driver had breached those terms.
The Court also decided Crouch would have been unlikely to have wandered onto the road and been hit by a vehicle had if the taxi driver had taken him to the correct address or remained with him. Crouch’s death was therefore caused by the taxi driver’s actions. However the taxi company was not held liable as the taxi driver was not its employee so it was not vicariously liable for his actions.
The drivers of the two vehicles which stuck Crouch were also found to have breached their duties of care by colliding with him. The forensic evidence indicated that Crouch sustained serious head injuries when he was struck by the first vehicle and that driver failed to take steps to protect him from further injury. On this basis, the Court found that the unidentified driver caused Crouch’s death. Whilst there was a significant possibility that Crouch sustained further injuries when struck by the second vehicle, Couch’s wife was unable to prove that it caused or contributed to his death.
French v QBE Insurance (Australia) Limited  QSC 105
Intoxication on the part of a plaintiff will not automatically relieve other negligent parties from liability for the plaintiff’s damage, even if the damage was unlikely to have occurred had the plaintiff been sober. It is necessary to look at the scope of the duty of care owed to the plaintiff and what role the intoxication played in causing the injuries in order to assess the relative contributions of each party’s actions to the ultimate loss.