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England and Wales High Court (King's Bench Division) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (King's Bench Division) Decisions >> Jones v Boyce  EWHC KB J75 (20 December 1816)
Cite as: 171 ER 540,  EWHC KB J75, (1816) 1 Stark 493
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(1816) 1 Stark 493; 171 ER 540
This was an action on the case against the defendant, a coach proprietor, for so negligently conducting the coach, that the plaintiff, an outside passenger, was obliged to jump off the coach, in consequence of which his leg was broken.
It appeared that soon after the coach had set off from an inn, the coupling rein broke, and one of the leaders being ungovernable, whilst the coach was on a descent, the coachman drew the coach to one side of the road, where it came in contact with some piles, one of which it broke, and afterwards the wheel was stopped by a post. Evidence was adduced to shew that the coupling rein was defective, and that the breaking of the rein had rendered it necessary for the coachman to drive to the side of the road in order to stop the career of the horses. Some of the witnesses stated that the wheel was forced against the post with great violence; and one of the witnesses stated, that at that time the plaintiff, who had before been seated on the back part of the coach, was jerked forwards in consequence of the concussion, and that one of the wheels was elevated to the height of eighteen or twenty inches; but whether the plaintiff jumped off, or was jerked off, he could not say. A witness also said, I should have jumped down had I been in his (the plaintiff's) place, as the best means of avoiding the danger. The coach was not overturned, but the plaintiff was immediately afterwards seen lying on the road with his leg broken, the bone having been protruded through the boot.
Upon this evidence, Lord Ellenborough was of opinion, that there was a case to go to the jury, and a considerable mass of evidence was then adduced, tending to shew that there was no necessity for the plaintiff to jump off.
Lord Ellenborough, in his address to the jury, said: This case presents two questions for your consideration; first, whether the proprietor of the coach was guilty of any default in omitting to provide the safe and proper means of conveyance, and if you should be of that opinion, the second question for your consideration will be, whether that default was conducive to the injury which the plaintiff has sustained; for if it was not so far conducive as to create such a reasonable degree of alarm and apprehension in the mind of the plaintiff, as rendered it necessary for him to jump down from the coach in order to avoid immediate danger, the action is not maintainable. To enable the plaintiff to sustain the action, it is not necessary that he should have been thrown off the coach; it is sufficient if he was placed by the misconduct of the defendant in such a situation as obliged him to adopt the alternative of a dangerous leap, or to remain at certain peril; if that position was occasioned by the default of the defendant, the action may be supported. On the other hand, if the plaintiff's act resulted from a rash apprehension of danger, which did not exist, and the injury which he sustained is to be attributed to rashness and imprudence, he is not entitled to recover. The question is, whether he was placed in such a situation as to render what he did a prudent precaution, for the purpose of self-preservation. His Lordship, after recapitulating the facts, and commenting upon them, and particularly on the circumstance of the rein being defective, added: If the defect in the rein was not the constituent cause of the injury, the plaintiff will not be entitled to your verdict. Therefore it is for your consideration, whether the plaintiff's act was the measure of an unreasonably alarmed mind, or such as a reasonable and prudent mind would have adopted. If I place a man in such a situation that he must adopt a perilous alternative, I am responsible for the consequences; if, therefore, you should be of opinion, that the reins were defective, did this circumstance create a necessity for what he did, and did he use proper caution and prudence in extricating himself from the apparently impending peril. If you are of that opinion, then, since the original fault was in the proprietor, he is liable to the plaintiff for the injury which his misconduct has occasioned. This is the first case of the kind which I recollect to have occurred. A coach proprietor certainly is not to be responsible for the rashness and imprudence of a passenger; it must appear that there existed a reasonable cause for alarm.
The jury found a verdict for the plaintiff. Damages £300.
Garrow, A. G., and V. Lawes for the plaintiff.
Topping, Scarlett, and Espinasse for the defendant.