Drunk Pedestrian’s Negligence Claim against Driver Fails

RTA negligence claim From The Solicitors’ Journal 20/04/09:

A drunk man who ran into the road, collided with a car and suffered catastrophic head injuries, cannot sue the driver for negligence, the High Court has held.

Michael Stewart, who is in a persistent vegetative state as a result of his injuries, had drunk an estimated five to seven pints and was sitting at a bus stop in the early hours of the morning, talking to a friend.

Delivering judgment in Stewart v Glaze [2009] EWHC 704(QB), Mr Justice Coulson said Stewart suddenly got up in the middle of his conversation and, without any warning, began walking towards the road.

“Mr Glaze was driving at about the speed limit. On his own evidence, he was driving carefully, and there is nothing to indicate otherwise. In particular, there was nothing to say that he had been distracted by anything at all.

“He had no reason to take any particular note of Mr Stewart until he stepped off the kerb. From then on, everything happened in a split second. It would, in my judgment, be wholly unreasonable on the evidence available to me to conclude that, immediately prior to the conclusion, Mr Glaze suddenly stopped being careful.”

“The case hinged on the proposition that Mr Glaze should have been looking out for Mr Stewart’s inexplicable charge into the road.

“In all the circumstances, I regard that as untenable. I do not consider that a reasonable driver would necessarily have seen Mr Stewart at that precise split second.”

Rejecting the negligence claim, Coulson J said that, given Mr Stewart’s inexplicable conduct, the collision was all but inevitable.

The duty of care that road-users owe is a two-way street. Pedestrians not only owe a duty to other road-users but arguably, in a broader sense, to themselves as well. High alcohol consumption and public roads are a dangerous combination, period, whether you’re behind the wheel or otherwise. And the law has long recognised that; let’s not forget here, Stewart was almost certainly guilty of an offence under the Licensing Act of 1872.

Although the consequences in this case were horrific, they could, of course, have been much worse. What if Glaze had been a motorcyclist and sustained serious injuries himself as a result of Stewart wandering into the road? As terrible as Stewart’s injuries were, I can only agree with the decision – particularly seeing that as far as Road Traffic Accidents are concerned, liability usually favours the pedestrian. On the facts, there was absolutely no reason to find that Glaze had been negligent, but there are broader policy issues in play here too; to have found in favour of Stewart would have been to create a dangerous precedent which would hardly be a fitting response to the growing culture of irresponsible public drinking that plagues modern society.


  1. Interesting case and I agree with the verdict... silly, drunk, pedestrians!

  2. I'm with AW, from what's been written the judge was perfectly correct not to support driver negligence. It would have been interesting to see just how high the contribution would have been in this one.

    I've suddenly decided I would prefer some other phrase than "cannot sue for negligence", because he totally can and access to a fair tribunal is a human right. It's just that he'd lose once he did bring his action because it's not true.

    I wonder if this verdict will be upheld in the media as a "victory of common sense" rather than the logical result following a tragic, pointless accident that it was?


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