Home » If a car driver overtakes a motorcycle and crashes into him, is he liable for damages?

If a car driver overtakes a motorcycle and crashes into him, is he liable for damages?

December 10, 2019,
Robert Hawkins,

The facts of the case: Brown v Paterson [2010] EWCA Civ 184

The case involved a road traffic collision between a motorcyclist, Mr Brown, and a car driver, Dr Paterson.

The incident occurred on 9 December 2004 at 9:50 pm on the A420 at a junction. In the original trial, the Recorder found that the accident happened when Mr Brown, who was travelling on the nearside of the eastbound carriageway, crossed over in front of Dr Paterson’s car. Mr Brown had been intending to turn right at the junction and therefore slowed down on the approach, then accelerated to execute the right-hand turn. Mr Brown did so suddenly, without indicating or signalling at any point. Dr Paterson had been in the process of overtaking Mr Brown and was completely unaware of Mr Brown’s intentions. As Dr Paterson was overtaking Mr Brown, Mr Brown accelerated and began the turn but instead crashed into the nearside side of Dr Paterson’s vehicle.

Mr Brown was unfortunately very seriously injured as a result of the accident. Mr Brown brought a personal injury claim against Dr Paterson but his claim did not succeed in Bristol County Court. Mr Brown appealed the decision and so the case was heard on 5 February 2010 in the Court of Appeal.

The court case before the Court of Appeal

Though Mr Brown, on appeal, accepted that he had been negligent in the way he had driven, he believed that Dr Paterson should also have been found negligent, with liability divided equally between the parties. It had been put to Dr Paterson in cross-examination that he should have slowed down until Mr Brown had cleared the junction, anticipating the possibility of Mr Brown turning right. Alternatively, it was argued, he could have flashed his headlights to alert Mr Brown to his presence, it being a dark night.

The Highway Code was referred to, in particular to rules 142 and 143 (as they were known as then). Rule 142 (which is now known as rule 166) emphasised not overtaking if there was any doubt as to the safety of doing so and 143 (now known as rule 167) emphasised not overtaking where you might come into conflict with other road users.

The primary submission of the claimant was that it was negligent of Dr Paterson to overtake at all, instead he should have slowed down until he was sure of Mr Brown’s intentions. This was therefore a breach of the Highway Code, rules 143 and 143. The wording of 142 was pointed out, in particular doubt and that there was clearly doubt as to what Mr Brown was doing. Dr Paterson should have realised that the only reason for Mr Brown to slow down was to make right turning at the junction. The judge in this case, however, took the view that at the time, it was clear to Dr Patterson that Mr Brown was continuing straight past the junction and that no doubt existed in the mind of Dr Paterson. He also cited the Recorder’s finding in the previous trial that Dr Paterson did not perceive Mr Brown slowing down.        The judge went on to say that there was nothing in the circumstances, including Mr Brown’s position in the road, his speed and the lack of any indication or signal, that would suggest he was about to turn right.

In response to rule 143, the judge emphasised the fact that there is no rule prohibiting overtaking at a junction, only overtaking which might cause conflict with another road user. The judge said it appeared to Dr Paterson that there was no risk of conflict with other road users and to him there was nothing to indicate otherwise.

In response to the suggestion of Dr Paterson flashing his headlights, the judge accepted Dr Paterson’s answer in that this seemed unnecessary at the time and that there was a risk that this would induce temporary blindness in an oncoming cyclist.

Therefore, the judge did not find a breach of either rule of the Highway Code but added that even if there had been a breach, this would not be sufficient to establish negligence. A breach of the Highway Code does not automatically mean that a driver has breached their duty of care to other road users. However, it gives a good indication as to the standard of their driving at the time of an incident. In this case Dr Patterson had not breached the Highway Code so this suggested to the court that his standard of driving had been satisfactory. The judge then went on to say that without hesitation, he rejected the idea that Dr Paterson should not have overtaken or should have slowed down as the judge believed the actions Dr Paterson were consistent with the actions of a reasonably careful driver.

In dealing with whether Dr Paterson should have realised that Mr Brown had slowed down, the judge said that Dr Paterson had no reason to think that the motorcycle had slowed, especially given that it was dark and Dr Paterson had only the bike’s rear light to go by. Once again, even if Dr Paterson had realised that Mr Brown was braking, this still would not have indicated that Mr Brown was about to turn right so this argument was rejected.

Therefore, overall the appeal was rejected and only the motorcyclist Mr Brown was held liable for the accident. Mr Brown had breached his duty of care by attempting to make a dangerous turn without indicating or having appropriate rear lighting, therefore the court found that he had not met the standard of a reasonably competent driver. Dr Patterson on the other hand had reached the required standard, he hadn’t breached his duty of care and thus was not liable for the collision. In a collision where one driver performs a dangerous manoeuvre, (breaching their duty of care, by failing to meet the standard of a reasonably competent driver), and the other driver does reach that standard, liability will rest only with the driver in breach of their duty.


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