The case of Shakespeare v Martin [http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2018/2114.html] relates to a liability only High Court trial in respect of a road traffic accident on 9 June 2015. Mr Shakespeare was riding his motorcycle along Rounds Green Road in the West Midlands. Rounds Green Lane has one lane in each direction with a broken white centre line.

There was heavy traffic on Rounds Green Road that day. Mr Shakespeare was overtaking the stationary or very slow-moving traffic. Mr Shakespeare accepted that he was riding on or very close to the centre lines as he was overtaking. He was riding at around 10 to 15 mph.

As Mr Shakespeare rode along he approached a business park which was situated to his left. Cars would enter and exit the business park from Rounds Green Road. At the time when Mr Shakespeare was approaching the side road, Ms Martin was leaving the business park in her VW Polo after finishing work. She intended to do a right onto Rounds Green Road, which meant that she had to cross the line of stationary traffic that Mr Shakespeare was overtaking.

A motorist in the line of traffic noticed the Ms Martin waiting to pull out and allowed a gap to open up in front of him so she could do so. Ms Martin pulled out whilst indicating right. What happened next was the main issue of the dispute, but it was accepted there was a collision between Ms Martin’s car and Mr Shakespeare’s motorcycle. Mr Shakespeare suffered a complex fracture to his left leg. He developed an infection and eventually due to complications elected to undergo a below knee amputation. This meant that the case was of significant value, hence the rationale for having a split trial.

My initial thought when reading through the judgment was that primary liability would be admitted and the trial would concern whether Mr Shakespeare would be found contributory negligent. However, Ms Martin’s insurers denied liability completely.

Derek Sweeting QC sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge heard the case in February 2018 and handed down his judgment on 09 August 2018. He confirmed that the central issue in the case was:-

  • Whether Ms Martin drove her vehicle into the side of Mr Shakespeare’s motorcycle, as he maintained his position and direction of travel, so the collision took place near the centre white lines?; or alternatively
  • Did Mr Shakespeare deviate from his direction of travel by moving to the left and by doing so drive into the front of Mr Martin’s vehicle whilst it was well within the carriageway and had not reached the centre white line?

The evidence from Mr Shakespeare was that he was overtaking traffic when Ms Martin “shot out”. He attempted to swerve to his right but at no time swerved to his left as alleged. He said Ms Martin made no attempt to stop and he was certain she was moving at the time of the collision.

Ms Martin provided a different account. She stated that a vehicle had stopped to her right to allow her to pull out. She pulled out and described herself as “creeping forward”. She was looking to her left and right. She felt she was still maintained in her own lane and had not yet reached the white centre lines. The thrust of her evidence was that if she was still moving she was barely doing so.

Basically, each party considered that the other had driven into them.

There was crucial witness evidence from a Mr Rakowski, who was the driver of the vehicle which had allowed Ms Martin to pull out. He confirmed that Ms Martin had executed her manoeuvre extremely cautiously and he even thought she was doing so too slowly. He then described Mr Shakespeare entering his lane at an angle and driving into Ms Martin’s car. Mr Rakowski considered that her vehicle was stationary at the point of impact.

Both parties relied on evidence from accident reconstruction experts. The experts agreed that if Ms Martin’s vehicle was some distance from the white centre lines and was stationary or moving very slowly, when the motorcycle steered left into the gap, then it was difficult to see what she could have done to avoid the collision.

Derek Sweeting QC found that:

  1. Ms Martin proceeded cautiously and slowly, keeping a proper lookout;
  2. At the moment of the collision the front of her vehicle was about three quarters across the initial lane she was traversing;
  3. The collision took place within the lane and not at the white centre lines;
  4. At the moment of the collision Ms Martin’s vehicle was either stationary or barely moving; and
  5. Mr Shakespeare had moved from his position in the road to the left and collided with Ms Martin’s vehicle.

Accordingly, he found no liability against Ms Martin and dismissed Mr Shakespeare’s claim.

This Judgment was a pure finding of fact rather than application of case law. I consider it will have limited applicability to other cases. There is no doubt Derek Sweeting QC would have given the witness evidence of Mr Rakowski significant weight in the absence of other independent evidence.