Court of Appeal dismisses motorcylist’s injury claim

Mr Goad was riding his motorcycle along a B road near Ely.  A Mr Butcher was driving a tractor coming the other way, and pulling a long, low trailer.  Mr Butcher turned the tractor into a lane on the right, which had a grass triangle at the junction, so that the end of the lane divided into an “entrance” and “exit” pair of small slip lanes where it met the main road.  To save time, Mr Butcher drove into the “exit” side when making his right turn.  At that point, he had 110 metres clear view along the main road and Mr Goad was not in sight.  The tractor and trailer were going slowly, about 4mph.  Mr Goad was coming along the main road, doing about 60mph, when the speed limit was 40mph.  On seeing the tractor and trailer (which were almost into the lane and off the main road by now), he braked heavily, but because of his speed, he was unable to control the bike, lost it, slid over the grass island and hit the tractor.  He was badly injured.

Not suprisingly, he sued Mr Butcher, but lost at trial, on the basis that although by cutting the corner into the lane Mr Butcher was in breach of the Highway Code, that was not of itself negligent in relation to Mr Goad.  It certainly would have been if Mr Goad had been coming out of the lane and hit the tractor, but on proper analysis, cutting the corner had nothing to do with the collision.  The motorcycle accident was wholly due to Mr Goad going too fast and therefore being unable to control the bike and brake safely when confronted with the other vehicle.

The majority of the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge was right. It was tempting to say that Mr Butcher should have started his turn a few metres further along, so he could turn into the correct side of the lane, since by doing that, he would have increased his view along the main road by 20 metres. That, however, would be a counsel of perfection. The fact that Mr Butcher breached the Highway Code was a red herring, because in fact that breach had nothing to do with the accident happening. It was very significant that Mr Goad never tried to argue that the distance of 110 metres visibility was not enough for Mr Butcher to make the turn safely- it plainly was, even with a tractor doing only walking pace.  Mr Butcher had to make the turn sometime, and starting it when the road in view was clear was not negligent. Turning into the wrong side of the lane was not negligent as regards this motorcyclist.

In other words, there was nothing Mr Butcher did which had a direct bearing on the accident.It was caused by Mr Goad going too fast and so giving himself insufficient time to brake safely and retain control of the bike.

This decision emphasises that whilst breaching the Highway Code can be taken into account by a judge when deciding if someone has been negligent, it does not automatically equal negligence.  On a logical analysis of the facts, this decision makes good sense, although many motorcyclists will see it as another swipe at riders by an establishment which simply does not have any sympathy for them and their choice of transport.

On a purely practical note, it really does reinforce the need for all riders to think very carefully about speed limits, whether to take the chance of exceeding them, and if so, when and where.  As my old police instructor used to say, you don’t get in trouble for breaking the speed limit- you only get in trouble if something goes wrong.

Court of Appeal dismisses motorcylist’s injury claim