Claimants fail to recover damages after jumping from taxi in attempt to avoid fare

The Court of Appeal has handed down its decision in the case of (1) Beaumont (2) O’Neill -v- Ferrer [2016] EWCA Civ 768, dismissing the Claimants’ appeal.

The case concerned six youths who had booked a taxi to take them into central Manchester, with the agreed intention to ‘jump’ the taxi, to avoid paying the fare.

When the taxi was nearing its destination, the rear nearside passenger door was opened, and three of the youths exited the taxi and fled. The Defendant then drove off with the remaining three occupants in the vehicle. The Claimants were in the rear seats, they had taken off their seatbelts, and the rear sliding passenger door remained open.

As the Defendant was driving away, both Claimants jumped out of the rear door of the taxi, with the intent to evade payment, and to join the others who had already left the vehicle.

It was accepted that the actions of the Defendant taxi driver were negligent. Although he was aggrieved at the prospect of losing his fare, there was no excuse for him driving away when the rear door of the vehicle was open, and the Claimant’s had unfastened their seatbelts. After the first three youths had fled, it was entirely foreseeable that the others would seek to do likewise.

The Court then looked at the issue of ex turpi causa. This is a contentious area of law which is currently subject to some divergence of opinion in the Supreme Court.

Longmore LJ, delivering the lead judgment, provides an analysis of the recent authorities.

He commented that, in this case, the Defendant was not a partner in the criminal joint enterprise of the Claimants (who sought to make off without payment); he should therefore be in a stronger position to contend that the ex turpi causa maxim is applicable than a defendant who was himself party to the criminal activity.

The Court indicated that ‘the crime of making away without payment was far from incidental (but integral) both to the claim itself and any negligence on the part of the driver’. Longmore LJ continued: ‘even if it could be said that the claimant’s injuries would not have happened but for the tortious conduct of [the Defendant], they were in reality caused by the claimants’ own criminal acts of making off without payment and … therefore, there should be no recovery.

The Court of Appeal further commented that this was not a case in which the criminal behaviour of the Claimants could be said to be ‘collateral’ the civil claim, and hence a case where the public policy arguments against allowing recovery could be said to be outweighed by the public policy issues inherent in the relevant civil law. Accordingly it was correct that the Claimants should not be able to recover from the consequences of their criminal conduct.

The issue of the ex turpi causa doctrine remains a contentious and developing area of law. The Court of Appeal’s further comments in this case will assist insurers, particularly in ‘fare jumping’ cases, however we anticipate that there will remain areas of uncertainty until an appropriate case comes before the Supreme Court, and further guidance is given upon the correct application of the principle.

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