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By Judy Lankester

Jul 9th, 2015

Tractors, Rural Roads and Risks

Adam Millar considers issues arising from the recent High Court case of Warwick Buswell v (1) Robert Symes (2) Motor Insurers Bureau [2015] EWHC 1379 (QB).

This case highlights issues to consider when assessing liability in accidents involving agricultural vehicles. In particular, agricultural vehicles exiting fields to turn onto rural roads.

Accident Circumstances

The Claimant had been riding his motorcycle along a rural road when he collided with a tractor driven by Mr Symes, the First Defendant. Mr Symes’ tractor and trailer was making a right hand turn onto the road from an adjoining field.

The road in question had a speed limit of 60mph and the collision occurred just beyond the crest of a hill. The Claimant would have had no visibility over the hill until he was near the top.

Mr Symes accepted that moving his tractor and trailer onto the road would briefly block the whole road, but denied that this would pose a serious risk to vehicles coming over the hill. He argued that he could not have done anything more to prevent the accident and that the accident had solely been caused by the Claimant travelling at excessive speed.

The Claimant argued that Mr Symes should have recognised the risk his manoeuvre posed to oncoming vehicles and instead used an alternative exit from the field. 

Judgment

The court was unimpressed by the inconsistencies in Mr Symes’ evidence. Mr Symes had been inconsistent in relation to how often he worked in the field and had incorrectly stated that there were no safer exits from the field which he could have taken.

The Judge determined that Mr Symes appreciated the risk he was taking when he drove his tractor onto the road from the exit used, knowing that motorcyclists commonly used this road. The Judge further determined that Mr Symes either foresaw the danger but took the risk anyway, or he did not foresee the danger when he ought to have done; either way the accident was caused by his negligence.

However, the Judge also accepted that the Claimant was travelling at a speed in excess of the 60mph limit. The Claimant should have known the dangers of travelling at an excessive speed over a blind crest were clear. The Judge also found that the Claimant was running a great risk of colliding with any vehicle that may have been over the hill. Accordingly, the Claimant was found to be two-thirds responsible for this accident. 

Summary

This case highlights some questions to consider when assessing liability in claims involving similar circumstances:

What level of knowledge did the driver have of the field they were working in?
Were there any other exits to the field?
If so, would it have been safer to use any alternative exit and why?

It is clear from this case that drivers should be aware of the likelihood of agricultural vehicles exiting fields along rural roadsides. Another useful case which was considered by the Judge was Hames v Ferguson and others [2008] EWCA Civ 1268: “When driving along country roads in the summer, it is not unusual to encounter slow-moving agricultural vehicles driving into or out of fields”.

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