Crossing Centre White Lines & the Balance of Probability
CASE REPORT: – Scott v Symons (2012) CA (Civ Div) 19/06/2012
At first instance, a motorcyclist was held responsible for a road traffic accident by riding his motorcycle onto the wrong side of the road. The motorcyclist himself had been injured by a car and gave the sole oral testimony at the trial. He contended he had been driving towards the middle of the road to give himself maximum visibility but conceded that his right hand might have crossed over the centre line. He always maintained however that he had remained on the correct side of the road and the collision must have been caused by the driver of the car wandering into his lane. There was a witness who did not attend trial. However his witness statement suggested the motorcyclist was on the wrong side of the road as he saw the collision in his rear view mirror.
The judge found that the motorcyclist was a frank, honest and credible witness, but that his evidence was a matter of reconstruction rather than recollection. It was held that the hearsay testimony of the witness that the other motorcar involved in the collision was on the correct side of the road very shortly prior to the accident was persuasive. He also took account of the motorcyclist’s admission that his right hand had indeed strayed over the centre line. The judge concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, it was most likely that the collision had been caused by the motorbike crossing onto the wrong side of the road.
The motorcyclist appealed. The Court of Appeal (Lord Neuberger MR, Moses and Rimer LJJ) in an ex tempore judgment held that the trial judge had been entitled on the evidence to find upon the witness’s evidence that shortly before the accident the driver of the motorcar involved in the collision was on the correct side of the road and if he had then strayed across the centre line, it would have had to have happened quickly and without reason. The Court also held that the court below was entitled to give weight to the motorcyclist’s frank admission that he may have slightly strayed into the incoming lane. Both factors, it was held, were sufficient to make a finding on the balance of probabilities that the motorcyclist was to blame for the accident. The appeal was dismissed accordingly.