car  In a very interesting decision handed down by the High Court in March, the Court explored the issue of the contributory negligence of a passenger who knowingly travels in a car with a “drink driver”.

Miss Erin Gallagher and her friends were out for an evening in her local town. There was a significant evidential conflict as to the extent of the parties’ socialising and, indeed, the number of public houses visited.

An acquaintance of Miss Gallagher’s, a Mr. Oliver McGeady was driving on the evening and admitted in Court to having consumed seven Heinekens.

The Court held that it should have been obvious to Miss Gallagher that  Mr. McGeady had consumed a number of drinks and, indeed, there was evidence before the Court that the group had been partaking in a “rounds” system.

On the way to a nightclub, the car driven by Mr. McGeady went out of control following a period of fast erratic driving , struck a telegraph pole and ended up on its roof in a field. Thankfully, the ultimate tragedy was avoided on this occasion but Miss Gallagher was seriously injured.

The Court was satisfied that it should have been obvious to the injured party that Mr. McGeady’s capacity to drive was likely to be impaired and she should not have travelled with him.

The Court emphasised that it does not have to be the case that a person is staggering around or is incapable of speech or balance or ordinary activities in order to have his or her capacity impaired by alcahol.  Justice Ryan commented that it was “hardly debatable” that alcahol impairs driving capacity.

The Court held that while Miss Gallagher was entitled to be compensated, she did have to accept some responsibilty under the doctrine of contributory negligence.

The position was simple; she should have known that the driver’s capacity to drive was impaired as she had ample opportunity to observe him before getting into the car. If her judgement was impaired by her own drinking , this was not an excuse.

A second issue before the Court was the question as to whether she was wearing a seatbelt. This was a hotly contested issue. The Court ultimately favoured the view that she was no wearing the seatbelt at the time.

Considering all matters, Justice Ryan felt that a significant deduction should be made in awarding compensation for knowingly getting into a car with an impaired driver and a lesser deduction for not wearing a seatbelt.

By way of an aside, the Court observed that the driver had not been so grossly intoxicated as to make the injured party’s decision to get into the vehicle a “reckless” one. It was clear that had her actions been assessed as reckless, she would have received nominal compensation if any.

In the event, the Court assessed her loss at 190,500 euro but awarded her the reduced figure of 114,300 euro because of her own contributory negligence.

This case is of interest as it is a good example of the practical and reasonable approach adopted by courts in such cases.


Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.