Court of Appeal overturns first instance decision against Defendant in claim involving accident on roundabout.
On 8 March 2005, an accident occurred on a roundabout where two vehicles were approaching the roundabout from the same direction. The parties put forward different versions of how the accident occurred:
- The Claimant alleged that she was driving in lane two of four lanes when the Defendant undertook her from lane one and “cut her up” by moving from lane one into lane two, making a collision inevitable.
- The Defendant claimed that she had been driving in lane two and that the Claimant had moved from lane three into lane two, thereby causing the collision.
At first instance, the Judge found as a fact that the Defendant had remained in lane two at all times and that the Claimant should bear the major part of responsibility for the accident. However, he held that liability should be apportioned at 70/30 on the basis that the Defendant, by seeking to accelerate away rather than stopping and slowing down, was perhaps not as alert to the Claimant’s difficulties as she should have been. The Defendant appealed against the finding of liability on her part.
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. Moses LJ stated that the Court of Appeal must be extremely sceptical of appeals on points of fact in cases of this nature, but it remains open to the Court of Appeal to explore the trial Judge’s findings and consider whether there is sufficient evidence to support these. In this case it was not open to the Judge to reach the conclusions she reached. Either the Defendant’s version of events was correct or the Claimant’s version was correct. They could not both be right and there was no evidence to support the Judge’s findings of negligence against the Defendant.
The trial Judge had effectively found in favour of the Defendant on all material points and had accepted the Defendant’s case that she had at all times remained in the correct lane. However, she found that the Defendant was negligent in failing to appreciate that the Claimant would/might seek to change lanes from the incorrect lane to the correct lane at the point that she in fact did. It was on this point that the Defendant’s appeal was successful.
Defendants and their insurers will welcome this decision which confirms that, in appropriate cases, it is open to the Court of Appeal to review the approach taken by the trial Judge to the evidence in a case. However, they should be aware that the Court of Appeal will generally be reluctant to do so, and will often defer to the findings of the trial Judge who had the benefit of seeing and hearing the witnesses give evidence.