Can a Claimant's own negligence break the chain of causation?
Published 15 June 2016
The claim resulted from a road traffic accident, in which the claimant pedestrian ran across a road into the defendant's moped's path. At first instance, the judge found the defendant to have been negligent as he had failed to slow from 30mph to 20mph, but the claimant's gross carelessness, fuelled by his consuming excessive levels of alcohol, was so unreasonable that it eclipsed the defendant's fault and constituted a new intervening cause; it broke the chain of causation between the defendant's fault and the injury suffered, and the claimant's claim was dismissed.
On appeal, the defendant's driving was decided not to have been negligent. The claimant had walked past a crossing only 10m before he ran into the defendant's path. The claimant's actions were not foreseeable and the accident resulted solely from his own negligence.
The court went on to consider whether, if the defendant had been negligent, the claimant's recklessness would have broken the chain of causation. The lead judgment of Lord Justice Christopher Clarke considered cases including Spencer v Wincanton, in which the defendant's negligent act (and consequent medical complications) caused the amputation of one of the claimant's legs, but his own negligence in failing to use either a prosthesis or crutches (which broke the chain of causation) caused a later accident and injuries which made him wheelchair-dependent.
Christopher Clarke LJ stated that claimants who have established negligence and causation will only be denied relief (and defendants will only be absolved of all liability) in "extreme circumstances" giving, in the context of pedestrians struck by vehicles, the example of youths goading one another to run into the path of oncoming vehicles.
Whilst not closing the door on a claimant's own negligence being so significant as to extinguish a claim in its entirety, where negligence is established on the part of the defendant it is clear that the claimant's conduct will need to be very reckless to see his claim fail.