Road accident victims often labour under the misapprehension that if they are in any way to blame for their own misfortune they are not entitled to compensation. However, that is not necessarily so, as demonstrated by a case in which a gravely injured motorcyclist won the right to very substantial damages.
The motorcyclist was riding along a main road when he collided with a car that had emerged from a side road into his path. He suffered injuries that left him paraplegic. Proceedings were brought on his behalf against the motorist's insurers, who denied that the motorist was responsible for the accident.
In ruling on the matter, the High Court found that, in the seconds before the collision, the motorcyclist was travelling at close to 50mph in a 30mph zone. That limit was too high for the busy stretch of road and a prudent speed would have been below 30mph. His excessive speed, which meant that he was unable to brake in time, was both negligent and a contributory cause of the accident.
However, the Court noted that it was incumbent on the motorist to ensure that the road was clear to his right before turning out of the side road. He was negligent in failing to edge forward sufficiently to see beyond a line of parked cars. Had he done so, he would have had a more distant view of oncoming traffic and the motorcyclist would have had a greater opportunity to see his car and to react in time.
The Court found on the evidence that the motorcyclist was a little more blameworthy than the motorist. However, the Highway Code places a heavy duty on drivers emerging from minor onto major roads and, given the motorcyclist's greater vulnerability, the motorist's negligence was the primary cause of the collision.
The motorist was ruled 60 per cent liable for the motorcyclist's injuries. The amount of the latter's damages has yet to be assessed, but is bound to be very substantial even after a 40 per cent reduction to take account of his own share of responsibility for the accident.