Man injured after jumping on bonnet of car gets 60% of claim

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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In the case of Groves v Studley [2014] EWHC 1522 (QB),  the Defendant was driving his car out of  lay by just after midnight, when he got into an argument with the Claimant, a pedestrian who jumped on his bonnet. The Defendant swerved his car so as to dislodge the Claimant, who sustained catastrophic brain damage.

Later on, the Defendant pleaded guilty to offences of dangerous driving and driving whilst disqualified. He was sentenced by a judge at Shrewsbury Crown Court to 18 months' imprisonment for dangerous driving, plus 4 months' imprisonment consecutive for driving whilst disqualified, plus 2 months' imprisonment consecutive for failing to stop after a road traffic accident. He had an extensive criminal record, including but not limited to offences of driving without due care and without insurance, driving with excess alcohol and driving whilst disqualified and without insurance and for failing to stop.

At the trial on civil liability, the Defendant did not give evidence, but his Road Traffic Act insurers put in their own Defence. They conceded that the Defendant was liable, but alleged that the Claimant was contributory negligent.

Mr Justice Stewart said that the main factual issues concerned:

  1. How it was that the Claimant came to be upon the Defendant’s bonnet;
  2. The events after the Claimant landed on the bonnet including:
    (a) Whether the Defendant stopped near the end of the lay-by such that the Claimant had an opportunity to get off the bonnet;
    (b) Whether the Defendant had any genuine concern as to the Claimant’s conduct if he brought the car to a halt rather than continuing to drive and (successfully) attempting to dislodge the Claimant from the motor car.

Stewart J went over the lay witness evidence. There were three potential explanations as to how the Claimant came to be on the First Defendant’s bonnet.

  1. He was struck by the front of the vehicle and landed on the bonnet.
  2. He jumped onto the bonnet so as to avoid being run over by the vehicle.
  3. He jumped onto the bonnet in order to get the vehicle to stop.

The Claimant alleged explanation 1, failing that explanation 2. The insurers' case was explanation 3.

Stewart J summarised the evidence of each witness. He found that there had been a conversation between the Claimant, a pedestrian and one of the drivers, which had started off as banter and degenerated quite quickly. The Claimant threatened the people in the Defendant’s car and stood in their way. The Defendant had then driven his car directly at Claimant, stopped and then started again. The Claimant deliberately jumped on the bonnet, and the Defendant proceeded to drive forward. Stewart J found that the Defendant was concerned to get away because of the Claimant's behaviour and that he was driving off for that reason.

Stewart J considered the legal principles. He referred to the case of Wisniewski v Central Manchester Health Authority [1998] PIQR 324 which considered the inferences which could be drawn if the witness did not appear. He also referred to Section 1 of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945. 

Stewart J said that clearly the Defendant did not want the Claimant on his bonnet. Once the Claimant was on the bonnet it was difficult for him to get off unless the car stopped or at least slowed very substantially. The Defendant could have stopped or slowed very substantially at any stage thereafter. He did not do so. He continued to drive and indeed accelerated. If he was concerned as to what the Claimant might do he could have locked his doors. There was no evidence that either he or his passenger did so. The Defendant could have either stopped in the lay-by where there were other members of the public or he could have stopped at any stage thereafter. He drove a substantial distance with the Claimant on the bonnet. He then deliberately swerved his car so as to dislodge the Claimant from the bonnet. In this he was successful and caused to the Claimant grievous injuries. He was guilty of the offence of dangerous driving. Given those circumstances, and adopting the principles of causation and blameworthiness, Stewart J held that the responsibility for this accident was 60% the First Defendant, and 40% to the Claimant. The Claimant was therefore entitled to damages representing 60% of the full value of his claim.

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About the Author

Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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