High Court Rules on Contributory Negligence in Quad Bike Accident: 30% Reduction in Damages Determined

Citation: [2024] EWHC 609 (KB)
Judgment on


In the case of Daryl Owens v Ross Lewis, heard in the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division, Wrexham District Registry, presided over by His Honour Judge Keyser KC, the court was tasked with adjudicating on the issue of liability—specifically, contributory negligence. The case centered around a quad bike accident wherein the claimant (Owens) suffered serious injuries while being a passenger on a quad bike driven by the defendant (Lewis). The following analysis provides insights into the legal principles applied by the court and how they were linked to the case specifics.

Key Facts

The claimant, nearly 16½ years old at the time of the accident, was riding as a passenger on a quad bike operated by the 15-year-old defendant when he fell off and sustained significant injuries, including a traumatic brain injury. The defendant conceded primary liability for permitting the claimant to travel as a passenger on the quad bike, an arrangement not meant for more than the driver. The matter contested was the extent of the claimant’s contributory negligence, with the defendant alleging this should result in a 65% deduction in damages, while the claimant’s position was that any deduction should not exceed 20%.

The legal principles relevant to this case include:

  • Standard of Care: Typically, a child defendant is judged against what is expected of an ordinarily prudent child of the same age. However, when it comes to the operation of vehicles, a higher standard may apply, akin to that of an experienced and careful driver.
  • Contributory Negligence: Under the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, if both parties have contributed to the harm, liability for damages is apportioned in a manner the court deems ‘just and equitable,’ considering each party’s share in the responsibility for the harm.
  • Blameworthiness and Causative Potency: As established in Stapley v Gypsum Mines Ltd and later reaffirmed in Jackson v Murray, the court must weigh the blameworthiness of the parties and the causative potency of their actions when determining the extent of contributory negligence.
  • Objective Standard: In assessing contributory negligence, the conduct of an individual is evaluated against an objective standard. Nevertheless, the age of the claimant is something that is taken into account, measuring the reasonable expectation for a child of the same age, intelligence, and experience.
  • Holistic Approach: As illustrated in Eagle v Chambers, the approach to determining apportionment should take into account all relevant factors as a whole, rather than aggregating individual elements of negligence.

The case also cites several other precedents (e.g., Joyce v O’Brien, McCracken v Smith, and Clark v Farley) to guide the determination of what percentage reduction for contributory negligence is appropriate.


After evaluating the circumstances of the case, Judge Keyser KC refuted the defendant’s argument for a 65% reduction. His Honour emphasized the greater blameworthiness and causative potency of the defendant’s actions, who not only took the initiative in the unsafe transport arrangement but also drove the quad bike at excessive speed. Notably, the judge did not accept the aggregation of percentages for separate elements of negligence, considering them aspects of a single bad decision by the claimant.

The judge likewise did not find the claimant’s older age to significantly shift responsibility onto him, given the spontaneous context and peer pressure assumed in the situation. Citing the case law, the judge concluded that a 30% reduction for contributory negligence was appropriate considering the claimant’s fault in deciding to ride the quad bike without a helmet, in an unsafe manner indicative of a single bad decision, against the defendant’s more significant causative actions.


In Daryl Owens v Ross Lewis, the court carefully applied legal principles pertaining to contributory negligence, considering the blameworthiness and causative potency of the claimant’s and defendant’s actions. Refusing to aggregate individual elements of negligence and taking into account the age and experience of the parties involved, a reduction of 30% for contributory negligence was deemed just and equitable. This outcome brings to light the nuanced approach courts must take when determining liability and reinforces the significance of both a defendant’s initiative in creating the risk of harm and the context of the claimant’s decision-making.