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Title: Amber gambling didn't pay off

Date: 25 March 2015

I was hurt quite badly in an accident which was caused by the driver in front of me unexpectedly and suddenly slamming on his brakes at a set of traffic lights. The light switched to amber and I thought he was going for it so I did too. Unfortunately he changed his mind but it was too late for me. I tried to stop but was unable to do so in time and went over the top of the car. I want to make a claim for my out of pocket expenses and injuries now that I am out of hospital but the police officer says not to bother as it’s my fault! Surely I deserve something. He braked too late.

Graham Lovell, Somerset

Answer

The usual rule is that you should leave sufficient space between you and the vehicle in front to allow you to safely stop should the unexpected happen. Therefore the vast majority of cases of rear end shunts are the fault of the person travelling behind. This is for either driving too close to the vehicle in front or simply not concentrating. However, in certain cases the driver who suddenly stops can be held at least partially to blame.
In one such case a judge decided that sudden, unexplained braking can be held to be negligent (Elizabeth –v- Motor Insurers’ Bureau, Court of Appeal, 1981). In Ritchies Car Hire Limited –v- Bailey (1958) a driver who slammed on her brakes to avoid hitting a pheasant causing the driver behind to run into her car, was found to have been negligent to stop “merely” for a pheasant. In your case the driver stopped for an amber light as is required except when to do so is likely to cause an accident. It is on this last bit that you would have to pin your hopes. I imagine most judges will find completely against you but you may be lucky and find a sympathetic one and if I were you I would make an early split liability offer with you accepting the vast majority of the blame. I would be reluctant to take this to court.

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