A farmer at the wheel of a tractor on a narrow country lane owes precisely the same duty of care to pedestrians as an ordinary driver on a motorway. In a case on point, the High Court ruled that a farmer's inattention and excessive speed was the entire cause of a catastrophic accident.
A couple were in a sober, happy and peaceful frame of mind as they made their way down a rural lane to the campsite where they were staying. As they heard a tractor approach, they stepped onto the grass verge. They were struck by an unlit seeding machine that the tractor was towing. The man suffered grave injuries, including a skull fracture, and will never be free of the accident's consequences.
After a very substantial damages claim was launched on the man's behalf, the farmer and his insurers denied liability for the accident. They asserted that the couple had themselves been careless, that the farmer had taken all appropriate precautions and that there was nothing more he could have done to avoid the collision.
Ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the trailer overhung the verge and was to all intents and purposes a hidden death trap. The farmer knew the lane well and was aware that it was used by pedestrians at all hours. Driving with his lights dipped, he was eager to get home for his evening meal. He had been concentrating on avoiding a pothole and did not see the couple before he passed them.
Although he was driving well within the 60mph speed limit, the Court found that he was nevertheless going more than twice as fast as he should have been in the circumstances. It was twilight, but the blameless couple were visible, conspicuous and discernible to any reasonably prudent driver. If not agreed, the amount of the man's compensation would be assessed at a further hearing on the basis that the farmer was 100 per cent liable for the accident.