High Court considers issues of liability and contributory negligence for car park accident

Mrs Justice Lang DBE has handed down her judgment in the recent case of Craig Sparrow -v- Arnaud Andre [2016] EWHC 739 (QB).

The collision occurred as both the Claimant and Defendant were manoeuvring in a crowded car park. The rear of the Claimant’s car collided with the rear of the Defendant’s car. The Claimant got out of his vehicle in order to inspect the damage. The Defendant moved his car away, but the Claimant’s vehicle started to roll backwards down a slope. The Claimant’s vehicle was able to roll backwards because the brake had not been applied, and the ignition had been left on.

The Claimant was concerned for the safety of his children who were still inside the car; he ran to the rear of the vehicle to attempt to stop it rolling away, but was unable to do so. His leg was crushed between the car and a metal gate post.

As a result of the collision, the Claimant suffered extensive injuries to his leg, resulting in amputation of the limb.

The Court considered the issue of liability and contributory negligence.

Mrs Justice Lang found that the Defendant was reversing in the car park at a low speed of 6-10 mph. She did not consider that reversing at this speed in a car park was, of itself, negligent, however she accepted that the Defendant had not kept a proper look-out, and this had resulted in the Defendant reversing into the Claimant’s vehicle.

The Court accepted that the Claimant had satisfied the ‘but for’ test of causation; in the absence of the initial collision between the Defendant’s car and the Claimant’s car:

  • the Claimant’s vehicle would not have been left stationary at a dangerous position at the edge of a slope;
  • the Claimant would not have exited the vehicle to check the damage;
  • the Claimant’s vehicle would not have rolled backwards down the slope, colliding with the gatepost;
  • the Claimant would not have attempted to stop the vehicle rolling away; and
  • the Claimant’s leg would not have been injured in the collision with the gate post.

The Court further accepted, however, that the Claimant had been negligent in exiting the vehicle without first applying the brake and / or turning off the ignition. Mrs Justice Lang did not consider the Claimant’s actions in attempting to stop the vehicle rolling away were negligent; in the circumstances, the Claimant was concerned for his children still in the vehicle, and so this action was understandable.

The Court did not agree with the Defendant’s submissions that the Claimant’s actions were a novus actus interveniens sufficient to break the chain of causation, however they were sufficient to warrant a significant reduction for contributory negligence of 60%.

Although relating to unusual facts, this decision provides an interesting example of the Court examining the issue of whether an intervening act will break the causative chain. Where the negligent actions on the part of a claimant arise secondary to, and in the context of, a defendant’s primary breach of duty, the Court will not find that the chain of causation has been broken.

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