Case name & citation: Owens v Brimmell  QB 859;  2 WLR 943
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
The learned judge: Watkins J
Area of law: Contributory negligence
What does the case deal with?
This is a UK tort law case that says that courts may find a passenger contributorily negligent when taking a lift with someone who is drunk.
Facts of the case (Owens v Brimmell)
The claimant and his friend were drinking together in a pub and they each consumed about nine pints of beer, before getting into the friend’s car. While the friend was driving home, they were involved in an accident. The car moved off the road and struck a lamppost. The claimant suffered serious injuries including brain damage and fractured bones. As a result, he sued for negligence.
Further, the defendant tried to take the defense of contributory negligence on two grounds. He claimed that the claimant was contributorily negligent firstly because he did not wear a seat belt and secondly because he failed to foresee that the driver’s ability to drive was impaired by alcohol.
Was the defendant liable for damages?
Could the claimant be held guilty of contributory negligence?
Judgment of the Court in Owens v Brimmell
The court determined that the claimant was entitled to compensation. However, because the claimant got into a car with someone he knew was drunk and unable to drive properly, it was determined that the claimant had contributed to his injuries, and as a result, the amount of compensation he received was reduced by 20%.
Even if the claimant was himself too drunk at the time to know how drunk the driver was, he was still contributorily negligent. This was due to the fact that the claimant and the defendant were out together on a pub crawl, and the claimant must have been aware of the possible consequences.
As far as wearing a seat belt was concerned, the defendant was unable to prove that doing so would have lessened the extent and degree of injury. As a result, the defendant’s claim that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent because he did not wear a seat belt was found to be unconvincing.
Quotes from the case
Watkins J said:
“Thus, it appears to me that there is widespread and weighty authority for the proposition that a passenger may be guilty of contributory negligence if he rides with the driver of a car whom he knows has consumed alcohol in such a quantity as is likely to impair to a dangerous degree that driver’s capacity to drive properly and safely. So may a passenger be guilty of contributory negligence if he, knowing that he is going to be driven in a car by his companion later, accompanies him on a bout of drinking which has the effect of robbing the passenger of clear thought and perception and diminishes the driver’s capacity to drive properly and carefully.”
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