No liability for motorist who hit man suspected of attempting suicide

August 22, 2017

As a motorist, it is incredibly challenging to deal with prosecutions for driving offences. The process can seem overwhelming – potentially involving civil and criminal aspects. Motorists need to be supported through this difficult experience with sensitivity, supporting them to defend their position.

The difficulties involved in this kind of case is demonstrated in a civil judgment which came out this month from the Scottish Outer House of the Court of Session.

In that case, a driver – Jane Ainslie – was cleared of all liability after having hit Mr Leslie Buck, who was suspected of trying to commit suicide at the time of the accident. Ms Ainslie and her motor insurers disputed liability for Mr Buck’s injuries. It was agreed that Ms Ainslie was not solely responsible for the accident – the question was, to what extent was she liable at all and to what extent did Mr Buck contribute to the accident through his own negligence?

The facts of the case

In January 2013, in the early hours of the morning, Ms Ainslie had been driving along a country road with her lights on full beam. Ms Ainslie had been working in a local supermarket and was travelling home. She was familiar with the road and drove it every day. At the time of the accident she had been a driver for 13 years. She stated that the road had been clear and that ‘all of a sudden it was as if someone had just run in front of her car.’ She said she had very little time to react.

Mr Leslie Buck – was wearing dark clothing at the time of the accident. It was not argued in court that Mr Buck had been attempting suicide at the time of the collision. However, it was stated that after the accident medical staff suspected that he been doing so. It was argued that in the afternoon preceding the accident the pursuer was noted to be drowsy and suspected of being under the influence of drugs. It was also stated that he had attended a hospital that afternoon complaining of leg injuries sustained when he had jumped out in front of and been struck by a car in the previous week.

Mr Buck could not recall the circumstances of the accident – his first memory was waking up in hospital 6 months later with no memories before 2008.

Who was liable?

The court noted that the duty on Ms. Ainslie as a driver was to take reasonable care. She was required to behave like a reasonable driver, not an ideal driver. The court noted that it was correct that it should not be guided by ‘what is sometimes referred to as ‘20-20 hindsight’.’

The court emphasized that Mr. Buck’s evidence provided no assistance as he gave no evidence of the circumstances of the accident itself and he gave no direct evidence as to what happened.

The court accepted that the first time Ms. Ainslie saw Mr. Buck was when she saw his shoe in her headlight, which was at a point in time very close to the collision.

It was concluded that Mr. Buck failed to take reasonable care for his own safety. The court did not form a conclusion on Mr. Buck’s state of mind or sobriety at the time. It was held that there was nothing in the evidence which allowed the judge to infer, as opposed to speculate, that Mr. Buck was attempting to commit suicide at the time of the collision.

Nevertheless, the court ultimately held that Mr. Buck ‘must bear the greater proportion of blame for the accident. He decided to be in the roadway in the face of a visible, well-lit, oncoming vehicle where there was no obvious need to be there. He should have known he would be particularly difficult to see in the dark, dressed as he was in dark clothing.’ It was held that it was not established that if exercising reasonable care Ms Ainslie would have been able to avoid colliding with Mr Buck.

The importance of expert legal advice

This case clearly demonstrates the difficult emotional circumstances which often arise in motoring cases. These cases are traumatic for all parties involved and can result in serious consequences. In this case, expert evidence was led, numerous witnesses were called and intricate factual and legal points were disputed. To navigate this complex legal landscape requires expert legal advice.

At Tuckers solicitors, we have a wealth of experience in this niche area of law. We will treat you as a motorist – not a criminal. We have experience in dealing with driving bans, failure to stop, careless driving, dangerous driving, alcohol and drug related offences and regulatory offences.

We are on hand with our expert legal team to represent you.

If you have any questions, need immediate assistance or require representation and assistance, do not hesitate to get in touch with our Driving Offences Department on 020 7388 8333 or email