The recent case of Marcel Beasley (a protected party by, his litigation friend Cadell Beasley) v Paul Alexander ( EWHC 2197 (QB)) serves as a reminder of what is required to establish contributory negligence: not just fault on the part of the claimant but also the causative potency of the fault.
On the afternoon of 22 May 2009 a serious collision occurred between a car driven by Mr Alexander and a motorcycle driven by Mr Beasley. Mr Alexander had been stuck in a line of traffic when he decided to abandon his journey and return home. He decided to turn into a farm track on the opposite side of the road. As he pulled out across the road towards the track his car was struck by a motorcycle ridden by Mr Beasley, who was attempting to overtake the line of cars in which Mr Alexander had been.
Sir Raymond Jack found that Mr Alexander had been negligent in that he had switched his indicator on at the last minute, had turned suddenly and had turned without first looking properly in his mirror (at ).
As to Mr Beasley’s contributory negligence, the Judge concluded that he was travelling at approximately 45 mph. The road was subject to the national speed limit of 60 mph, however Sir Raymond considered Mr Beasley was going too fast in the circumstances, although not by much: he would not have been criticised for travelling at 35 mph. Expert evidence indicated that, depending on Mr Beasley’s reaction time, it would have taken him 4.42 seconds or 4.92 seconds to stop at 45 mph, whereas at 35 mph it would have taken him 3.66 seconds or 4.16 seconds. In the event, Mr Beasley only had approximately 1.5 seconds and the extra time would not have allowed him to slow his speed significantly. Therefore, even if he had been travelling at a safe speed, he would not have avoided a serious accident (at -).
This case demonstrates that even if it can be shown that a claimant was negligent, contributory negligence will fail unless that negligence can be shown to have caused the damage suffered.