When Taxi Journeys Turn Dangerous

Case Comment: Hicks v Young [2015] EWHC 1144 (QB) QBD

The Story

On or around 11pm, a couple hired a taxi to take them home following a night out. During the taxi journey they asked the driver to stop twice, once for a pizza and the second time, for cigarettes. At the time of the second stop, one passenger got out and the other, Mr H, attempted to follow. As he did so, the taxi drove away in full knowledge that Mr H was still in the vehicle and wanted to leave.

Taxipersonalinjury

Mr H protested repeatedly, asking the taxi driver to stop the vehicle. The taxi driver refused and continued to drive on. The taxi door remained open at this time. Mr H took it upon himself to attempt to leave the vehicle, by jumping out, whilst it was travelling at an unsafe speed to do so. As a result, he sustained a catastrophic life changing brain injury when he fell onto the road.

The Problem

In order to investigate the case, both sides of the story had to be established. Whilst there was no issue in determining the defendant’s position, the claimant’s evidence could not be heard. As a result of his injury, Mr H was not able to give evidence nor had he been able to communicate his version of events, prior to the court case. It was accepted by all involved in the case that Mr H was not drunk at the time of the accident but he may have been affected by alcohol.

A police officer, who attended at the scene, gave evidence in Court that Mr H had not fallen out of the taxi but had made a “conscious effort” to leave the vehicle whilst in motion.

The defendant’s position was that Mr H was attempting to leave the vehicle without paying the fare and accordingly, the driver was returning to the taxi rank with Mr H still in the vehicle.

Given the defendant’s position, the Court had to make a decision on whether Mr H’s injury had occurred whilst attempting to commit the criminal offence of making off without payment. If it was found that that was the case, Mr H would be legally barred from making a claim for damages under the defence of illegality.

The Legal Arguments

Mr H’s legal team argued that Mr H was entitled to recover damages because the taxi driver had acted negligently in driving away with a passenger and effectively abducting them. The driver was aware that Mr H wanted to leave the vehicle and therefore it was foreseeable that he would try to escape to his injury. It was also noted that the taxi vehicle’s doors could not be locked.

The defendant’s legal team argued that it was not foreseeable that a passenger would jump out of a moving vehicle and that he was not driving recklessly, at the time of the accident, given that the claimant’s behaviour was not a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s driving.

At that time, the defendant’s legal team also made an alternative argument based on a legal test called causation. That says that the injury must share a relationship to the breach of duty. The two must be linked and no intervening act can break that link. It was the defendant’s argument that the claimant’s decision to jump from a vehicle that was still in motion was an intervening act that broke the chain. It was his decision to jump that caused the injury rather than the defendant’s behaviour.

The Decision

The Court held that the taxi driver owed a duty of care to Mr H and that duty was to drive with reasonable care to ensure his safety.

The Court also held that, at no point during the journey, did the taxi driver drive in an unsafe manner. His speed remained within the speed limit at all times.

The Court stated that in order for the case to succeed, it had to be shown that it was negligent for the driver to drive the vehicle, in any manner, whilst a person was detained in it who may attempt to escape because the driver knows that the passenger wants to get out.

The Court held that, in the circumstances, it accepted that it was foreseeable that Mr H would attempt to escape and that during that escape he could likely injure himself.

The Court also held that, in relation to the issue of illegality, it accepted that Mr H was not attempting to make off without paying. Given that, he was entitled to recover damages.

The Court disagreed with the defendant’s argument that there was a break in the chain of causation. It stated that the taxi driver had a duty to prevent any injury to his passengers.

However, the Court found that Mr H had contributed to the incident by making a conscious effort to leave the taxi whilst in motion. He had therefore contributed to his own misfortune. His award of damages was thus reduced by 50%.