A husband and wife crossed a road. The wife, appreciating that the danger from the traffic, ran across. The husband stood in the middle of the road and then went ahead, but was struck by a vehicle and injured. He was significantly affected by alcohol, and evidence had been led at the trial indicating the effect of alcohol on accident statistics, particularly relating to men. The judge concluded that the husband was 25 per cent to blame for the accident.
Held: The driver’s appeal succeeded to the extent that the plaintiff was 50% responsible for his injuries.
Stuart-Smith LJ considered the correct approach to the fact that the husband had been affected by alcohol in the context of the issue of apportionment. He replied to a submission which sought to equate the approach to a drunken driver to the situation of a drunken pedestrian, as follows: ‘That may be so in the case of a driver who puts himself in the control of an object which is capable of great damage if it is not properly controlled, but I am not persuaded that it makes a significant difference in this case in the case of a pedestrian. It seems to me that the pedestrian’s conduct has to be judged by what he did rather than the explanation as to why he did it.’ Having referred to the statistical information which had been before the judge, he said: ‘The result of that statistical survey is no doubt a matter of expert knowledge not available to a layman. But whether it is of any material assistance in this case is another matter. It is not the fact that a plaintiff has consumed too much alcohol that matters, it is what he does. If he steps in front of a car travelling at 30 mph at a time when the driver has no opportunity to avoid an accident, that is a very dangerous and unwise thing to do. The explanation of his conduct may be that he was drunk: but the fact of drunkenness does not, in my judgment, make the conduct any more or less dangerous and it does not in these circumstances increase the blameworthiness of it.’
As to the test of admissibility laid down in the 1972 Act 1972: ‘But that section in no way extends the principles upon which expert evidence is admissible. An expert is only qualified to give expert evidence on a relevant matter, if his knowledge and expertise relate to a matter which is outside the knowledge and experience of a layman. In the reference to an ‘issue in the proceedings in question’ relates to a factual issue and not to the conclusion of law based upon such fact’.
Stuart-Smith LJ laid down the limits of expert evidence: ‘In such cases the function of the expert is to furnish the Judge with the necessary scientific criteria and assistance based upon his special skill and experience not possessed by ordinary laymen to enable the Judge to interpret the factual evidence of the marks on the road, the damage or whatever it may be. What he is not entitled to do is to say in effect ‘I have considered the statements and special evidence of the eyewitnesses in this case and I conclude from their evidence that the defendant was going at a certain speed, or that he could have seen the plaintiff at a certain point’. These are facts for the trial Judge to find based on the evidence that he accepts and such inferences as he draws from the primary facts found. Still less is the expert entitled to say that in his opinion the defendant should have sounded his horn, seen the plaintiff before he did or taken avoiding action and that in taking some action or failing to take some other action, a party was guilty of negligence. These are matters for the Court, on which the expert’s opinion is wholly irrelevant and therefore inadmissible’.
Stuart-Smith, Peter Gibson and Hutchison LJJ
Times 17-Jul-1995, (1996) PIQR 36
Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 1(1), Civil Evidence Act 1972
England and Wales
Cited – Bailey v Warre CA 7-Feb-2006
The claimant had been severely injured in a road traffic accident. His claim was compromised and embodied in a court order, but later a question was raised as to whether he had had mental capacity at the time to make the compromise he had.
Cited – Lunt v Khelifa CA 22-May-2002
The claimant pedestrian had been injured when hit by a car driven by the defendant as she stepped into the roadway. Both parties appealed against the assessment of contributory negligence. The claimant had a blood alcohol level three times that . .
Cited – Allen v Cornwall Council QBD 20-May-2015
The claimant was injured riding his bicycle, and alleged failure by the respondent highway authority. The court now considered an application for leave to appeal against an order allowing the production of evidence of an expert in cycling skills and . .
These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 07 June 2021; Ref: scu.83063