Successful Defence of Road Traffic Accident Claim by Exeter Solicitor

It is often assumed that if another vehicle drives into the back of your car that you will inevitably succeed with your claim. A recent case in the Torquay County Court shows that is not necessarily so.

Richard Stevinson, a Solicitor at Crosse + Crosse in Exeter, acted for Stagecoach in the claim brought against them by another driver. The claim arose out of a road traffic accident which occurred when the driver brought her vehicle firmly to a stop as she was approaching the set of traffic lights at the junction of Torquay Road and Keyberry Road, near the Penn Inn roundabout in Newton Abbot. The Stagecoach bus which was about 31 ft behind her, was unable to stop and collided with the rear of the car. The car driver brought a claim for damages against Stagecoach claiming that the accident was entirely the fault of the bus driver for colliding with the rear of her car.

A trial took place in the Torquay County Court on 2 March 2012. The Court found that the reason the car driver had brought her car to a halt was she had incorrectly thought that the traffic lights were on red or amber whereas in fact they were on green. As she had no reason to stop, the Judge found that she was negligent in stopping her vehicle in the way that she did and found her to be 80% to blame for the accident. The Judge found the bus driver to be 20% to blame as he was driving too close to the car in front and so was unable to stop before colliding with the rear of the Claimant's car.

Stagecoach prior to the trial, had made offers to pay the car driver a percentage of her damages she failed to beat the offers made and, this meant the decision had serious consequences for the car driver and her insurers. Her Solicitors sought permission to appeal against the apportionment of liability. That application was heard on 26 April 2012. The Judge refused permission to appeal as he felt she had no chance of succeeding and he said there was clear negligence by the car driver as she had failed to check her rear mirror to see what was behind her before stopping her vehicle firmly at what were green lights. The Judge said it was incumbent on road users to be aware of traffic around and especially of that behind you. There was no reason for her to have stopped when she did so. The Claimant was ordered to pay the costs of the unsuccessful appeal.

Richard Stevinson said "It is often assumed that if one vehicle drives into the back of another that it will always be the fault of the following vehicle. That is not necessarily the case and as this case demonstrates, you need to look at what happened in context. Every case is fact sensitive. Stagecoach recognised that some fault might attach to their driver and made offers to settle the claim; but we always took the view that primary liability would rest with the car driver. Following legal advice she chose to reject what were reasonable offers. The end result is that her insurers have now had to pay out substantial sums in costs which far exceed the sums that they have recovered and, she has recovered less than was offered to her."

It would seem that two key points emerge from the case which are:

  • Don't assume that if you are hit in the rear by another vehicle that you will automatically succeed with your claim
  • Make sure that you get proper advice on the merits of your claim and any offer that is made to settle it.

Richard commented "I see many claims where the person bringing the claim is locally based yet for some reason they have engaged solicitors who are at the opposite end of the country.  That was the case here.  This arrangement always strikes me as extraordinary and rarely if ever does this geographical separation work to their advantage.  They would in my view be far better retaining a local firm specialising in accident or injury claims.  It is much easier to get proper advice about your claim when you can sit face to face with your solicitor as opposed to having to deal with everything over the telephone and never actually get to meet with them".