Motorcyclist who crashed into back of car which stopped for ‘no reason’ awarded damages



Sheriff Court
Sheriff Court

A motorcyclist who was injured after crashing into the back of a car which performed an unnecessary “emergency stop” has been awarded nearly £50,000 damages.

A sheriff in the All-Scotland Personal Injury Court ruled that the driver of the vehicle, who braked suddenly because she had become “apprehensive” at the sight of the motorcycle approaching from behind, was entirely at fault for the accident.

Motorcycle tour

Sheriff Kenneth McGowan heard that the pursuer Leslie O’Donnell, 59, an experienced motorcyclist who had travelled extensively across Europe and elsewhere on his bike, was travelling from Ireland to Scotland with his friends John Steele and police officer William Gateley for a motorcycle tour.

On the morning of 29 May 2016, the trio motorcycled from Omagh to Larne, where they boarded a ferry to Stranraer and then headed towards their destination of Oban.

Travelling north at about 55-60 miles per hour on the A82 at Loch Lomond Mr O’Donnell caught up with a Peugeot driven by the first defender Lisa Smith, which was travelling at around 50mph.

The pursuer took up a position 50-60 metres behind the car - with Mr Steele following about 50m or so behind him, and Mr Gateley another 50m or so further back - and was considering overtaking.

However, Ms Smith became “apprehensive” when she saw the motorcyclists in her rear view mirror and braked so harshly that she performed an emergency stop.

Mr O’Donnell braked hard but was unable to avoid colliding with the rear of the stationary vehicle and as a result of the accident he sustained fractures to his right wrist and right knee, requiring hospital treatment in Scotland before he was able to return home to his home in Ireland, where his wife had to care for him for several months.

‘Negligence’

The pursuer raised an action for damages over the first defender’s “negligence”, seeking £46,000 plus £3,500 for services provided to him by his wife and £2,200 for the cost of replacing damaged motorcycling clothes and equipment.

It was submitted that the first defender’s evidence was the same as the pursuer and his witnesses, namely that she carried out an emergency stop, which should lead to the finding that “primary liability” was established.

It was also argued that there was “no rule” that the occurrence of a collision by one vehicle running into the back of another automatically gave rise to an inference of negligence on the part of the following driver.

The first defender had further failed to prove “contributory negligence” on the part of the pursuer.

But the first defender denied liability, arguing that the motorcyclist was to blame because he was riding “too close” to her and was travelling “too fast” and that, in any event, he could have avoided the collision. 

‘Duty of care’

However, the sheriff ruled that the first defender was in “breach of her duty of care” to the pursuer and other road users and that her negligence was the cause of the accident.

In a written judgment, Sheriff McGowan said: “On the first defender’s own evidence it is clear that she was in breach of duty. She said that she had become apprehensive about the presence of the motorcycles. She gave no reason for that and there was no criticism of the manner in which the motorcycles were being driven. 

“I accept the evidence that the pursuer was about 50-60m behind her and that Mr Steele and Mr Gateley were further back again. Accordingly, in my view she had no legitimate reason to be apprehensive.

“Looking at the circumstances as a whole, there was no reason whatsoever for her to brake. There was nothing ahead which gave rise to any requirement to do so and while slowing down a little by removing her foot from the accelerator, to allow the pursuer to overtake if he wished to do so, may have been legitimate, a sharp braking manoeuvre was inappropriate. The clear advice in the Highway Code is to drive steadily without sudden changes of speed or direction. 

“The first defender admitted that she braked too harshly and her car came to a stop. In my view, that is entirely consistent with the evidence of the pursuer and his two motorcycling companions.

“Accordingly, I find that the first defender was in breach of her duty towards other road users, including the pursuer, and that her negligence caused the accident.”

The sheriff also observed that there was “no single rule which specifies the distance which should separate two vehicles travelling one behind the other”, and that “the mere fact of one vehicle having collided with the rear of another vehicle in front does not of itself give rise to the presumption that the driver of the following vehicle has been negligent”, but the following driver is expected to drive in such a fashion as will enable him to deal successfully with all traffic exigencies “reasonably to be anticipated”.

Dismissing the first defender’s argument that the pursuer was partly to blame, he added: “On the pursuer’s own evidence, whilst doing a steady 55 miles per hour, he had been gradually closing on the first defender’s car, which was doing about 50 miles per hour, for about one mile. He thought he could overtake, but he was not fully committed to doing so. He was carrying out an assessment, which involved him looking for hazards such as junctions and oncoming traffic. 

“Drivers must pay appropriate attention to a variety of matters. So the pursuer cannot be expected to have been exclusively focussed on the brake lights of the first defender’s car at all times. Moreover, even when these lights came on, there was no reason for the pursuer to think that the first defender was going to come to a complete halt and do so suddenly. 

“Once the first defender’s car began to slow, with every passing second the pursuer was getting closer to it, so even a short delay in his reaction would have compromised his ability to stop in time or take some other avoiding action. Accordingly, in my view, it cannot be inferred from the fact of the pursuer being unable to stop before colliding that he was closer to the first defender’s car than suggested by the eye witness evidence.

“In any event, the evidence was that the first defender’s car stopped very quickly. The pursuer said that he had no time to react. I accepted that evidence. He was faced with an emergency situation. He sought to bring his vehicle under control but regrettably was not entirely successful in stopping.

“So to summarise, it is clear that the first defender was at fault. It has not been proved that the pursuer was at fault. In these circumstances, the cause of the accident was the first defender’s negligence and no case of sole fault or contributory negligence is made out.”

The pursuer was awarded a total of £47,000 damages.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2019



Other judgments by Sheriff Kenneth McGowan