Goad v Butcher and WI Butcher & Sons 22.02.11

In June 2006 the Claimant was riding his motorbike along a B road when he collided with a tractor and low-loader trailer being driven by the Defendant. The accident occurred as the Defendant was turning right off the B road into a lane, cutting the corner as he did so, which infringed a provision of the Highway Code. When he began his turn he could see for 110 metres along the road and at that point the Claimant was not in sight. The Claimant, who was travelling at between 55 and 65 miles per hour in a 40 miles per hour speed limit, braked heavily. He lost control of his motorbike and collided with the tractor, sustaining serious injuries. At first instance Seymour J held that the Claimant was driving too fast and was entirely responsible for the accident.

Held

Lord Justice Moore-Bick gave the leading judgment, finding that in the circumstances the Defendant was not negligent. A failure to observe the Highway Code may be evidence of negligence, but in this case the fact that the Defendant cut the corner was a red herring. The real question was whether it was negligent of the Defendant to make the turn at the time and place he did. He had a duty to act as a reasonably prudent and careful driver of a slow-moving and lengthy vehicle. A driver will not be held negligent simply for failing to achieve a counsel of perfection.

Lord Justice Jackson dissented. He did not regard the breach of the Highway Code as a red herring. In his view it was negligent for the driver of a tractor and trailer proceeding at four miles per hour to cut this particular corner. The Defendant should have ensured that oncoming traffic would have the best possible view of his tractor before he started to turn right.

Comment

In this case the Court of Appeal adopted a similar approach to that in Clayton v Lambert [2009], which was another case in which a motorcycle being ridden at high speed collided with a vehicle turning right across its path. In Clayton the Court of Appeal emphasised that courts should look at whether the decision taken by a defendant was reasonable at the time it was taken, as opposed to with the benefit of hindsight. These decisions serve as a useful reminder of the correct approach to be taken by the courts.

However, Jackson LJ’s judgment should serve as a note of caution. Each case will be considered individually and decisions will be highly fact sensitive.

View our report on Clayton.