The case of Smith v Randall illustrates that in cases where there are multiple factors contributing to a motor vehicle accident, the court will consider the weight of all those factors in determining the cause of the accident.
What are the facts?
On 21 January 2013 at around 5.00am Mr Paul Randall was driving his utility west along the Gore Highway, just outside of Toowoomba. At the same time Mr Joshua Smith was driving a milk truck in the same direction.
As Mr Randall approached his destination he slowed to 10 kilometres an hour intending to exit the highway by turning right into a driveway. Mr Randall did not use his indicator.
Mr Smith, who was travelling behind Mr Randall, did not realise how slow Mr Randall was travelling until he was about 100 metres away. As Mr Smith anticipated that Mr Randall was slowing down to turn left, he started to overtake the utility.
Mr Randall then went to turn right off the highway, straight into the path of Mr Smith’s truck. Mr Smith braked hard but hit the utility leaving both drivers injured.
What were the issues at trial?
The main issue at trial was whether both drivers were negligent and, if so, how liability should be split between them. To do this it had to be determined whether both drivers contributed to the cause of the accident.
The case against Mr Randall
It was argued that Mr Randall failed to use his indicator to signal his intention to turn right, made a right hand turn when it was unsafe to do so and drove while intoxicated.
The case against Mr Smith
It was argued that Mr Smith failed to keep a proper lookout, failed to slow and give way to Mr Randall and was driving at an excessive speed in the circumstances.
Were Mr Smith’s actions reasonable?
There were various accounts suggesting that it was not until Mr Smith was 100 metres away that he noticed how slowly the utility was travelling. In other accounts Mr Smith suggested he noticed from as far as 500 metres away.
The Court held that even if Mr Smith did not notice anything until he was 100 metres away, this distance would have still allowed him time to slow down rapidly.
Instead Mr Smith assumed that the utility would turn left. As a result Mr Smith did not slow down and attempted to overtake the utility when it was not safe to do so. This was held to be unreasonable due to the substantial risk that the utility may have been turning right.
It was held Mr Smith breached his duty of care and that his actions were a necessary cause of the accident.
It was accepted that Mr Randall’s blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was in the vicinity of 0.06 per cent. It was also accepted that Mr Randall had told police officers at the scene that he had been “a bit sleepy”.
The influence of alcohol on Mr Randall was held to have contributed to the accident as Mr Randall failed to indicate right and failed to look in his rear view mirror when he became close to his destination.
It was held Mr Randall breached his duty of care and contributory negligence was presumed in accordance with s 47 of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld).
What was the outcome?
The Court concluded that there was no real difference between each driver’s culpability.
The Court held that the actions of both drivers contributed to the accident and assessed the contributory negligence of each driver at 50%.
What is the take home message?
In this case both parties sought to deny liability and blame the other party for causing the accident. A better approach would have been for both parties to properly consider the extent of their culpability before the matter reached the courts.
When there are multiple factors relating to the cause of an accident, a thorough consideration of the weight of those factors should be undertaken. This is an exercise the courts will undoubtedly undertake and parties should be prepared for the real possibility of a 50/50 split.