Nettleship -v- Weston; CA 1971

The plaintiff gave a friend’s wife driving lessons. An experienced driver himself, he checked her insurance first. The learner crashed into a lamp-post, and he was injured. She was convicted of careless driving, and he sought damages. The judge held that he had voluntarily assumed the risk. He appealed dismissal of his claim at first instance.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The plaintiff, by checking on his position under the car insurance before agreeing to give the lessons, had shown expressly that he did not consent to run the risk of injury which might occur through the learner’s known lack of skill, so that she could not rely on the defence of volenti non fit iniuria to bar his claim. Lord Denning MR: ‘This brings me to the defence of volenti non fit iniuria. Does it apply to the instructor? In former times this defence was used almost as an alternative defence to contributory negligence. Either defence defeated the action. Now that contributory negligence is not a complete defence, but only a ground for reducing the damages, the defence of volenti non fit iniuria has been closely considered, and, in consequence, it has been severely limited. Knowledge of the risk of injury is not enough. Nor is a willingness to take the risk of injury. Nothing will suffice short of an agreement to waive any claim for negligence. The plaintiff must agree, expressly or impliedly, to waive any claim for any injury that may befall him due to the lack of reasonable care by the defendant: or, more accurately, due to the failure of the defendant to measure up to the standard of care that the law requires of him.’ The duty of care owed by a learner driver to her instructor is to be judged by the same objective standard as that owed to passengers and other road users by qualified drivers.

Court: CA
Date: 01-Jan-1971
Judges: Lord Denning MR
References: [1971] 2 QB 691, [1971] 3 All ER 581
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