The Greedy Instructor

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The Greedy Instructor

Nettleship v Weston [1971]

 

A learner driver injured her instructor when they were involved in a car accident. The instructor tried to claim against the driver in negligence, but the question was what the ‘standard of care’ was that the learner driver had to breach – do we expect learner drivers to be as careful as experienced ones? 

 

The Court of Appeal said yes: the duty of care was that of a competent and prudent driver (that’s somebody who can drive and drives carefully), and because Mrs Weston had been driving below this standard she had to pay him money (damages) to cover his loss. She was covered by insurance anyway, so the decision just made sure the teacher received some money whilst he could not work.

 

 

This is interesting for anyone who is starting out in a profession, or doing an activity for the first time – you only get better with practice, so does it seem unfair to expect you to be at the level of a careful and competent person doing that activity the first time around? It’s probably important that there was insurance available in this case — if there is no insurance available the person who causes the harm often is not worth suing anyway. And in any case, if the claimant understood there was a risk of injury the defence of consent (volenti) may be available, so this isn’t as harsh a decision as it first sounds. The decision does show how the courts develop tort law with half an eye on policy considerations and the ‘real life’ situation, though — whilst Mrs Weston wasn’t really at fault this result only affected her insurance premium.