Paul Doyle v Catherine Banville

CourtSupreme Court
JudgeMr. Justice Clarke
Judgment Date01 May 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] IESC 25
Docket Number[S.C. No. 181 of 2009]
Date01 May 2012
Doyle v Banville
Paul Doyle


Catherine Banville

[2012] IESC 25

Denham C.J.

McKechnie J.

Clarke J.

[Appeal No: 181/2009]



Personal Injuries

Negligence - Road traffic accident - Trial - Evidence - Appeal - Whether appellate court should interfere with findings of fact based on demeanour of witnesses - Whether trial judge obliged to set out conclusions of fact in clear terms - Whether trial judge made significant and material errors in drawing conclusions - Whether trial judge erred in drawing adverse inference from absence of early complaint - Whether trial judge failed to correctly weigh conflicting evidence - Whether permissible for party to give evidence of strength or weakness of case - Hay v O'Grady [1992] 1 IR 210 and Mannix v Pluck [1975] IR 169 approved - Doran v Cosgrove (Unrep, SC, 12/11/1999) considered - Courts Act 1988 (No 14), s 1 - Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 (No 31), s 8 - Appeal allowed; retrial directed (181/2009 - SC - 1/5/2012) [2012] IESC 25

Doyle v Banville

Facts: The plaintiff/ appellant was involved in an unfortunate accident when travelling on a motorcycle behind the defendant/ respondent's car and when, he asserted, the defendant/ respondent braked hard and caused him to lose control. The trial judge came to the view that there was no negligence established against the defendant on the basis largely of credibility assessment. It was alleged inter alia that the trial judge had erred in law in relying on the absence of a timely complaint, in failing to weigh conflicting evidence appropriately and failing to address inconsistencies in evidence.

Held by the Supreme Court per Clarke J. that the proper course of action was to allow the appeal and to direct a retrial of the liability issue. The Court had identified two errors in the ruling of the trial judgment, both of which related to significant matters in the context of the narrow issues on which liability turned. The trial judge was in error in drawing an inference from the failure to commence proceedings in a timely fashion and in failing to adequately examine an explanation given for no complaint having been communicated at an earlier stage.

Reporter: E.F.

HAY v O'GRADY 1992 1 IR 210 1992 ILRM 689 1992/2/502


DORAN v COSGROVE & MURRAY UNREP SUPREME 12.11.1999 1999/10/2327

MANNIX v PLUCK 1975 IR 169



1. Introduction

2 1.1 The circumstances surrounding motor accidents are often quite difficult to establish. The court may, to a greater or lesser extent, have available to it the recollections of participants or independent bystanders. There may, again to a greater or lesser extent, be forensic or expert evidence which can assist in the task of piecing together what actually occurred. In many cases in which damages are claimed for negligence arising out of a motor accident, the real issue on liability between the parties will turn on the view which the trial court ultimately takes as to how the accident occurred. There may, in some cases, also be legal questions as to the extent of the liability of various parties even after those facts have been determined on the balance of probability. However, in very many cases it is the facts, and often a very detailed examination of them, on which the question of liability turns. This case is one such.


3 1.2 On the 14 th October, 2000 the plaintiff/appellant ("Mr. Doyle") was involved in a most unfortunate accident at the village of Kilrane in Co. Wexford as a result of which he has been rendered a paraplegic. While the defendant is named in these proceedings as Catherine Banville, as a result of unhappy circumstances relating to her marriage, she is now known as Catherine O'Rourke (her name before marriage) and I therefore propose referring to her as Ms. O'Rourke.


4 1.3 The broad outline of the events which led to the unfortunate accident are not in dispute. On the day in question Mr. Doyle was travelling on his 100cc motorcycle behind Ms. O'Rourke's motor car as they both approached the village of Kilrane from the same direction. In the centre of the village there is a slightly staggered cross junction. At some point either a little before or just at that junction an incident occurred which led Mr. Doyle to cross onto his wrong side of the road and come into collision with a car travelling in the opposite direction which was driven by a Ms. Caroline Doyle and had in it as a passenger a Ms. Helen Power, a sister of Caroline Doyle. As the result of the incident Mr. Doyle suffered the significant injuries to which I have referred.


5 1.4 While it will be necessary to refer in somewhat more detail to the evidence in due course, in broad terms the competing accounts of the accident contended for on behalf of the parties were as follows. Mr. Doyle asserted that, as Ms. O'Rourke was virtually at the junction in question, she braked hard having, apparently it was suggested, made a last minute decision to turn to the left. On Mr. Doyle's case it was that manoeuvre by Ms. O'Rourke which caused him to lose control and cross onto the wrong side of the road thus leading to his impact with the oncoming car. On Ms. O'Rourke's case Mr. Doyle was simply travelling behind her as she approached the junction. She asserted that she indicated to turn left some 100 metres from the junction and slowed down through the gears to enable her to execute that turn. On her case Mr. Doyle simply emerged from behind her car as she was engaged in executing the turn. Against that background it is clear that the case turned on an analysis of events that occurred in a split second.


6 1.5 The case went to trial on a modular basis with liability being tried first. The trial judge (Lavan J.) came to the view that no negligence had been established against Ms. O'Rourke and, in so doing, largely based his findings on credibility. Against that decision Mr. Doyle appeals to this Court. Before dealing with the precise issues which arise on this appeal it is, perhaps, appropriate to address the general principles by reference to which this Court should analyse the determination of the Court below in a case such as this and indeed the manner in which a trial court should address the issues which arise in such cases. While there was only a limited difference between counsel on this question same was, nonetheless, the subject of some discussion during the hearing.

2. The Law - General Principles

2 2.1 The starting point for any consideration of the law in this area has to be the decision of this Court in Hay v. O'Grady [1992] 1 I.R. 210, where the judgment of the Court was given by McCarthy J. Placing reliance on the fact that an appellate court does not have the benefit of seeing and hearing witnesses or observing the manner in which evidence was given or the demeanour of those giving it, McCarthy J. came to the view that, if findings of fact made by a trial judge were supported by credible evidence, this Court was bound by them however voluminous and weighty any contrary evidence might seem. It is clear, therefore, that it is no function of an appellate court such as this to re-weigh the balancing exercise which any trial judge is required to do when sitting without a jury for the purposes of determining the facts. I do not understand either party to suggest that this Court should depart, in any way, from the principles outlined in Hay v. O'Grady.


3 2.2 It does need to be recalled that the context in which the issues which came to be decided in Hay v. O'Grady were before the Supreme Court was the then recent abolition of jury trials in most personal injury actions brought about by s.1 of the Courts Act, 1988. There was a well established jurisprudence as to the circumstances in which it was possible for an appellate court to review and, if appropriate, overturn, what amounted to factual decisions by juries. This Court, in Hay v. O'Grady, was concerned with whether there had been any change to that position brought about by the move to trial by judge sitting alone. As noted by McCarthy J. the established jurisprudence in respect of jury trials was that issues of fact and the inferences to be drawn from the facts as found should not be disturbed by this Court if there was evidence to support such findings and inferences. The position, in respect of a trial by a judge alone, deriving from Hay v. O'Grady is somewhat different in that it is clear that this Court may, at least in certain circumstances, be in a position to review an inference of fact drawn by a trial judge (at least where such inference does not depend on oral evidence or recollection of fact and where the trial judge had an opportunity to assess the relevant witness(es)). It is also important to note that McCarthy J., at p218, emphasised the importance of a clear statement by the trial judge of his findings of primary fact, the inferences to be drawn, and the conclusion that follows.


4 2.3 In addition it does need to be said that there are other consequences of the move to trial by judge alone. Any party to any litigation is entitled to a sufficient ruling or judgment so as to enable that party to know why the party concerned won or lost. Where a jury decides facts, an appellate court will only have the submissions and evidence of the parties, the judge's direction and the answers given by the jury to the questions submitted to them, to go on. Where a judge decides the facts there will be a judgment or ruling whether orally given immediately after the trial, or in writing after a period. To that end it is important that the judgment engages with the key elements of the case made...

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