Caoimhín Griffin v Dan Hoare

JurisdictionIreland
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
JudgeMr. Justice Noonan,Mr. Justice Woulfe
Judgment Date09 December 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] IECA 329
Docket NumberRecord Number: 2020/49

[2021] IECA 329

THE COURT OF APPEAL

Woulfe J.

Noonan J.

Ní Raifeartaigh J.

Record Number: 2020/49

High Court Record Number: 2017/4797P

Between/
Caoimhín Griffin
Plaintiff/Respondent
and
Dan Hoare
Defendant/Appellant

Personal injuries – Liability – Quantum – Appellant appealing against determinations of liability and quantum – Whether the judge was in error in failing to make a finding of contributory negligence against the respondent

Facts: The plaintiff/respondent, Mr Griffin, suffered personal injuries in a road traffic accident that occurred at about 6.50am on the 25th November, 2014 on the road from Cahirciveen to Killorglinon the Ring of Kerry. It was a dark morning and although the road was damp, it was not raining. The road was not particularly wide with about 20 feet of useable carriageway. The plaintiff was driving his motor car towards the Killorglin direction at, he claimed, about 75km/h. As he rounded what was for him a right hand curve in the road, he met the articulated lorry of the defendant/appellant, Mr Hoare, coming in the opposite direction. The plaintiff claimed that he was blinded by a “wall of lights” on the oncoming lorry which resulted in him becoming disorientated and colliding head on with the lorry. The plaintiff’s version of the accident was strongly disputed by the defendant who said that at all material times his headlights were dipped, he was on his own side of the road and the plaintiff was travelling at “a ferocious speed”. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal from the order and judgment of the High Court dated 24th January, 2020 which found the defendant 100% responsible and awarded damages. The appeal was brought against both the determinations of liability and quantum by the High Court.

Held by Noonan J that each of the plaintiff’s failures, and in particular that regarding braking, made a significant contribution to the occurrence of the accident. While Noonan J believed the judge was correct to conclude that the primary cause of the accident was the defendant’s failure to dip the powerful lights on his lorry, Noonan J was of the view that the judge was in error in failing to make a finding of contributory negligence against the plaintiff. In all the circumstances, Noonan J was satisfied that the appropriate level of contribution should be one third.

Noonan J assessed the plaintiff’s total general damages in the sum of €120,000 to which must be added the agreed special damages of €5,968; applying a one third deduction, this resulted in a net decree in favour of the plaintiff in the sum of €83,979. Accordingly, Noonan J held that he would allow the appeal, set aside the order of the High Court and substitute a decree for that amount.

Appeal allowed.

UNAPPROVED
NO REDACTION NEEDED

JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Noonan delivered on the 9th day of December, 2021

1

. This appeal arises from a road traffic accident in which the respondent (“the plaintiff”) suffered personal injuries. The appellant (“the defendant”) appeals the order and judgment of the High Court dated 24th January, 2020 which found the defendant 100% responsible and awarded damages. The appeal is brought against both the determinations of liability and quantum by the High Court. In reaching my conclusions, I have had the advantage of reading in draft the judgment of Woulfe J. delivered herein.

Background Facts
2

. The accident occurred at about 6.50am on the 25th November, 2014 on the road from Cahirciveen to Killorglin on the Ring of Kerry. The plaintiff was born on the 17th December, 1992 and was 21 years of age on the date of the accident. It was a dark morning and although the road was damp, it was not raining. The road was not particularly wide with about 20 feet of useable carriageway. The plaintiff was driving his motor car towards the Killorglin direction at, he claimed, about 75km/h.

3

. As he rounded what was for him a right hand curve in the road, he met the defendant's articulated lorry coming in the opposite direction. The plaintiff claimed that he was blinded by a “wall of lights” on the oncoming lorry which resulted in him becoming disorientated and colliding head on with the lorry. The plaintiff's version of the accident was strongly disputed by the defendant who said that at all material times his headlights were dipped, he was on his own side of the road and the plaintiff was travelling at “a ferocious speed”.

The Evidence and the Trial Judge's Findings
(a) Liability
4

. The plaintiff's evidence was that he was driving to work on this road, with which he was well familiar, at a speed of about 75km/h. He came around a right hand bend on to a short straight where he met a “huge wall of light”. He said he was completely blinded and disorientated by the light. He said he pressed the brakes to try and stop but collided head on with the lorry. His vehicle ended somewhat rotated to his left so that the driver's door was against the front of the lorry.

5

. In cross-examination, it was suggested to the plaintiff that if the defendant's lorry was illuminated in the manner suggested by the plaintiff, he ought to have seen the approaching lights some distance before he actually saw the vehicle. He denied that. He was asked if he braked and said that he did. He did not agree that the accident occurred completely on his wrong side of the road. He said that after he had seen the wall of light, he held the steering wheel as straight as he could and tried to stop the car. He denied that he changed his direction of travel.

6

. The court also heard evidence from Donal O'Sullivan, who was driving in the same direction as the plaintiff and came upon the accident shortly after it happened. He also described the lights on the defendant's lorry when he arrived as being a “wall of light”. He was strongly challenged on this evidence in cross-examination by reference to previous allegedly inconsistent statements made by him concerning the lighting on the defendant's lorry.

7

. The plaintiff also called in evidence a forensic collision investigator, Jim O'Brien, formerly a member of An Garda Síochána. He commented on various photographs taken by different parties, including the Gardaí. He said that the defendant's articulated lorry was upwards of 40 feet long. It had the standard four headlamps on the body of the cab below the windscreen but four auxiliary lights had been added to the roof of the cab and he described these and their operation in detail.

8

. He noted that the plaintiff's evidence was that he was driving at 75km/h and he believed the truck to have been travelling at about 40km/h as the plaintiff came into view but Mr. O'Brien believed the truck would have braked from that speed to a slower speed. He thus estimated the closing impact of the two vehicles combined at about 100km/h and his view was that the damage evident to the plaintiff's vehicle was consistent with an impact at that speed but not higher for reasons which he gave.

9

. Mr. O'Brien's evidence therefore appears to suggest that the impact damage on both vehicles, and the plaintiff's in particular, was consistent with the plaintiff still travelling at 75km/h on impact, thus suggesting that he did not slow down.

10

. With regard to the position of the vehicles, he accepted that the photographs clearly showed that the plaintiff ended up completely on his wrong side of the road. His view was that the truck was “marginally” into the plaintiff's lane by he thought some 12 to 14 inches. The truck was angled slightly to its left indicating that the driver had started to move to his left at the time of impact. He was of the opinion that if the lights were as described by the plaintiff, this would be dazzling and disorientating for the plaintiff.

11

. Although this latter opinion evidence might have been open to objection on the basis that it was not within Mr. O'Brien's area of expertise, there was in fact no dispute about this proposition, representing as it did no more than a statement of the obvious that common sense would in any event suggest. As was noted in Byrne v Ardenheath [2017] IECA 293 and subsequent judgments of this court, in cases not involving complex fields of specialist activity, the court is entitled to bring its own common sense to bear in analysing expert evidence in the context of the relevant duty of care – see Cekanova v Dunnes Stores [2021] IECA 12, Naghten (A Minor) v Cool Running Events Ltd. [2021] IECA 17, Dunphy v O'Sullivan [2021] IECA 171 and Nemeth v Topaz Energy Group Ltd. [2021] IECA 252.

12

. As regards the post-impact position of the plaintiff's vehicle, Mr. O'Brien agreed several times that it was entirely on the incorrect side of the road and in fact, the right hand headlight of the truck was still illuminated after the accident. He also confirmed on cross-examination that there was no evidence of the plaintiff having braked prior to the accident. When asked about what distance the vehicles would have been apart when they first had sight of each other, Mr. O'Brien thought this was around 100 metres. He agreed that the aura, as it was described, of the defendant's lights should have been visible to the plaintiff at about 200 metres from the lorry.

13

. The following exchange took place during Mr. O'Brien's cross-examination (Transcript Day 3, p. 12):-

“67 Q. Yes. Now, at 100 metres of sight distance, even leaving 100 metres as the basic level, at 75 kms an hour Mr. Griffin can stop, can stop completely if the other lorry is not moving, isn't that right?

A. Yes.

68 Q. Right. So if he is doing 75 kms and he brakes and the evidence from Mr. Hoare is that he wasn't travelling quickly, suggests to you Mr. Griffin could have stopped before the accident if he had any issue with the lighting on Mr. Hoare's lorry?

A. He would have been in a position to stop his vehicle if he made a decision at that initial moment to apply...

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1 cases
  • Paidraig Higgins v The Irish Aviation Authority
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 7 March 2022
    ...in the context of personal injury damages, in my recent dissenting judgment, while sitting in the Court of Appeal, in Griffin v. Hoare [2021] IECA 329, as follows (at para. 31):- “As regards the Book of Quantum, I have had regard to the guideline figures set out in the Book, as required by ......

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