Nettleship V Weston, Facts, Important points, Crticizm

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This case is concerned with the contributory negligence and breach of duty in tort law.

Facts of Nettleship v Weston

The defendant asked the claimant who was her friend to teach her how to drive a car. The agreed to her demand but only on one condition that ensured, that he was covered under the defendants comprehensive car insurance policy, when the course started and when the defendant was driving .

She failed to straighten the car after having turned the corner, the claimant told her to straighten the car but the defendant panicked. Mr Nettleship also applied the handbrake to straighten the car but it was no use , as a result the car mounted the pavement and hit the lamp post, Mr Nettleship broke his kneecap as a result of the collision and he sued Mrs Weston for negligence

Decision held

The trial judge dismissed the claim of Mr. Nettleship on the basis that the defendant had only owed him a duty to do her best and that she did not fail in the duty 

The three main points of the judgement of Nettleship v Weston were

  • 1- The defence of Volenti non fit Injura was rejected
  • 2- The duty of care for a learned driver towards the public and passengers wotld be of the same standard that would be applied to any other driver.
  • 3- And finally both the learner and the driver were jointly responsible for the accident and therefore a reduction of 50% of contributory negligence was appropriate.

Criticism:

The criticism was on the third point, Lord Denning MR said in this branch of law. We are moving away from the concept: ‘no liability without fault’. We are beginning to apply the test: on whom should the risk fall?. Morally the learner driver is not at fault, but legally she is liable to be because she is insured and the risk should fall on her.

Statements of different judges of these three points

1-The Responsibility of the learner driver towards persons on or near the highway

Lord Denning MR

“Mrs Weston is clearly liable for the damage to the lamp post. In the civil law if a driver goes off the road on the pavement and injures a pedestrian, or damages property, he is prima facie liable. Likewise if he goes on to the wrong side of the road, It is no answer for him to say: “I was learner-driver under instruction. I was doing my best and could not help it”. The civil law permits no such excuse. It requires of him the same standard of care as any other driver”

2- The Responsibility of the learner driver towards passengers in the car

Lord Dixon J

“If a man accepts a lift from a car driver whom he knows to have lost a limb or an eye or to be deaf, he cannot complain if he does not exhibit the skill and competence of a driver who suffers from no defect…. If he knowingly accepts the voluntary services of a driver affected by drink, he cannot complain of improper driving caused by his condition, because it involves no breach of duty”

3- The responsibility of a Learner- driver towards his instructor

Lord Salmon LJ

“In all that I have said. I have treated Mrs Weston as the driver who has herself in control of the car. On that footing. She is plainly liable for the damage done to the lamp post. She is equally liable for the injury done to Mr. Nettleship . She owed a duty of care to each. the standard of care is the same in the either case . It is measured objectively by the care to be expected of an experienced, Skilled and careful driver”.