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Why Nettleship v Weston is important

Nettleship v Weston makes clear that the Court will not ordinarily take into account the idiosyncrasies of the defendant. It also highlights the interplay between ‘breach of duty’ question, and the defence of volenti non fit injuria.

Facts

Mrs Weston wanted to learn to drive. Mr Nettleship agreed to give Weston some lessons, though only if she could show that Nettleship would be protected by her insurance if he was injured as a passenger in the car. Weston was insured, covering Nettleship in the case of an accident, and so Nettleship agreed to give lessons.

On their third lesson, Mrs Weston crashed the car into the lamp post, causing injury to Mr Nettleship.

Mrs Weston was convicted in the criminal law of driving without due care and attention.

Claim

Mr Nettleship brought an action for damages against Mrs Weston in the tort of negligence, arguing that she breached her duty to take reasonable care towards him.

Inter alia, Weston denied negligence.

Issue

Whether Weston owes the same duty of care to the passenger of a car (including a driving instructor), and what standard of care should be expected of her. Specifically, the Court was asked whether it should take into account that Weston was a learner driver.

Held

Weston was held liable.

Reasoning

The Court of Appeal made clear that a learner driver must be judged according to the same standard as all drivers. Weston was therefore not entitled to argue that a lower standard should be expected of her because she was learning to drive.

In the words of the Salmon LJ:

Any driver normally owes exactly the same duty to a passenger in his car as he does to the general public, namely to drive with reasonable care and skill in all the relevant circumstances. As a rule, the driver’s personal idiosyncrasy [such as being a learner driver] is not a relevant circumstance.

The Court of Appeal went on to consider whether Weston had a defence of volenti non fit injuria. Weston argued that Nettleship knew there was an increased risk of a crash because she was a learner driver. Therefore, he argued Nettleship could not expect the same level of reasonable care.

This argument was rejected. The fact Nettleship asked to see Weston’s insurance policy showed he was not prepared to take responsibility for any injury caused in a crash.

The Court nevertheless reduced Nettleship’s damages by a half, based on contributory negligence.

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