A decision of the High Court in the case of Michael Tevlin v Kevin McArdle and the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland  IEHC 436 delivered by Judge Cross on the 6th October 2014, found the plaintiff 45% negligent for travelling in a vehicle with a driver he had been drinking with and for failing to wear his seatbelt.
Michael Tevlin, a passenger in a vehicle driven by Kevin McArdle which was uninsured at the time of the accident, sought damages for significant injuries, including a head injury, he sustained as a result of a road traffic accident which occurred on the 27th December 2010.
The Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland (“MIBI”) is an organisation to compensate victims of road traffic accidents caused by uninsured and unidentified vehicles. The MIBI sought to defend the case on the basis that Mr Tevlin permitted himself to be carried in a vehicle knowing the driver had consumed alcohol. Judge Cross was of the opinion that the intoxicated driver of the vehicle, whose intoxication caused the accident, must bear a larger degree of fault than the passenger who allowed himself to be carried by an intoxicated driver. Judge Cross therefore made a finding against the plaintiff of 35% contributory negligence. In arriving at his decision Judge Cross specifically took into account the excessive amount of alcohol consumed, the nature of the joint enterprise and the long period over which the consumption of alcohol had occurred.
The MIBI also alleged contributory negligence against Mr Tevlin for failing to wear his seatbelt. Judge Cross accepted that some of the plaintiff’s injuries would have been lessened by the wearing of his seatbelt but the most significant injury, being the head trauma sustained by Mr Tevlin, would not have been affected. Judge Cross made a further finding of 10% contributory negligence and accordingly the total finding of contributory negligence amounted to 45%.
It appears from this decision that in circumstances where a passenger has allowed himself to be carried in a vehicle where he knew the driver was intoxicated, the courts are reluctant to impose an absolute ban on the injured passenger recovering compensation. It also reaffirms the position as set out in the previous judgements of Hussey v Twomey  IEHC 17, where there was a finding of 40% contributory negligence, and Moran v Fogarty  IESC 55, where there was a finding of 30% contributory negligence, that significant contributory negligence will apply to passengers who allow themselves to be carried in a vehicle where they knew the driver was intoxicated.
For further information please contact Robert Kennedy, Partner, or Tomás McDonagh, Assistant Solicitor, in our Defence Litigation Unit.