Large Vehicles Narrow Roads!

Here is an interesting recent Court of Appeal case, which has relevance to large vehicles, such as HGVs and buses crossing the centre line of a narrow road.

Robert Whiteford v Kubas UAB (2012)

CA (Civ Div) (Laws LJ, Richards LJ) 09/05/2012



A recorder had erred in imposing an unacceptably high standard of care on a lorry driver in finding him primarily liable for a road traffic accident in which a motorcyclist collided with the lorry. The accident had occurred on a narrow country lane, and the lorry driver could not properly be criticised for taking a course which kept him away from the edge of the road but slightly over the centre white line on a bend, particularly where the motorcyclist had admitted fault in driving too close to the centre line himself.

The appellant company (K) appealed against a decision that one of its employees (N) was primarily liable for a road traffic accident in which the respondent (W) had been injured.

We had been riding a motorcycle along a single carriageway country road. As he approached a bend, a lorry driven by N appeared from the opposite direction. W's right leg struck the front offside corner of the lorry and he sustained serious injury, for which he claimed damages from K. The matter came before the recorder for trial on liability. W's evidence was that when he first saw the lorry, about three seconds before impact, its cab appeared to be over the centre white line whilst its front wheel was on the line. W accepted that he was at fault in that he could have driven further over to his left as he went around the bend, and conceded that if he had done so, he would have passed the lorry. N did not give evidence but the parties' experts did. They agreed that neither W nor N had been driving at speed, and that their view of each other had been hampered by the bend in the road, a change in elevation and a mature tree. The experts agreed that the road was only slightly wider than the lorry, and that the lorry's front wheels were on or just over into W's lane at the time of impact. The recorder found that N, as a professional driver, should have appreciated that he was in a large vehicle on a narrow road and kept to the left. He accepted W's statement that the lorry was encroaching over the centre line at impact. The recorder found that that was causative of the accident, so that K was primarily liable for the accident, although W was 50 per cent contributory negligent.

K contended that, on the facts as found, the recorder had been wrong to find that the lorry had been driven negligently by N. It submitted that, given the relative sizes of the lorry and the carriageway, it was a counsel of perfection to hold that N should have driven even closer to the edge of the road that he had, which amounted to a distance of only a few inches. K argued that any attempt by N to drive any closer to the nearside would give rise to risks of its own. It referred to W's admission that he could have driven more to the centre of the lane, and contended that if he had done so, the collision would have been avoided.

HELD: In considering liability for road traffic accidents, the court had to bear in mind the need to avoid imposing a counsel of perfection: the standard was one of reasonable care, Ahanonu v South East London and Kent Bus Co Ltd [2008] EWCA Civ 274, (2008) 105(5) L.S.G. 25 followed. The instant case did not concern any dispute of fact, but an assessment of whether negligence was established on the primary facts as found. The Court of Appeal could substitute its own judgment in such circumstances, although it would approach the invitation to depart from the judge's findings with caution. It was striking that the road in question was a relatively narrow country road and the lorry's lane was barely wide enough for it to fit into. The finding that, by straying onto and just beyond the centre white line, N was not acting in the way a reasonable and prudent driver would have was not accepted. On the contrary, it had been reasonable for him to have given himself a reasonable amount of room. The situation N was faced with was not unusual on a country road, and for a lorry driver to have driven on or close to the edge of the road would have created risks of its own. N could not properly be criticised for taking a course keeping him slightly out from the edge. There should have been no problem for a motorcycle taking the proper line to have managed the bend without colliding with N. The facts were not such as to establish a breach of duty on N's part: that would impose an unacceptably high standard. The recorder had erred in his finding as to K's liability, and W's claim had to be dismissed.

Appeal allowed.