It’s a big part of our culture…
And one we are all so familiar with.
A Friday night BBQ at friends.
But for Stephen and his partner, this BBQ would end in absolute disaster.
It was a Friday night in May, 2003 and Stephen and his partner went to a friend’s BBQ to celebrate the end of the week. Many hours later, Stephen’s partner decided to leave the BBQ driving their car home, with Stephen promising to catch a cab home later.
Stephen continued drinking, having consumed in total a bottle of rum and two shots of bourbon.
Sometime later, friends placed a very drunk Stephen into a taxi telling the driver Stephen’s home address.
The taxi dropped Stephen to a house 4 doors down and unsurprisingly, the owners did not know who the man was.
With no wallet and no cash (as Stephen’s partner had accidentally taken them earlier), the taxi driver had no way to confirm the identity of the mystery man or his actual address.
The driver called police. After 10 minutes the police hadn't arrived so the taxi driver opened the door and Stephen fell out of the cab on to the footpath.
After Stephen was left on the footpath a series of events took place but exactly what happened next will never be known.
Approximately forty-five minutes later, Stephen was seen lying on another road. He had been run over twice by two separate cars and dragged along the ground by the first vehicle.
Stephen died at the scene of the accident from extensive head injuries.
Stephen Crouch's partner and his 4 children sued the taxi driver's insurer, the taxi company, the second driver's insurer and also the Nominal Defendant being the insurer of the unidentified driver who first ran over Stephen.
The Nominal Defendant is a State fund set up to provide compensation for someone involved in an accident involving an unregistered or unidentified vehicle.
Where the at fault vehicle cannot be identified the Nominal Defendant is the insurer. This is the standard "hit and run" scenario.
The court found that there was two people that were at fault for Stephen’s death:
The court found that…
“the taxi driver owed a duty of care to Stephen to make sure he dropped him home safely instead of leaving him lying on the footpath and therefore he breached his duty of care”
The unidentified driver was also found at fault for breaching his/her duty of care by failing:
The court found that the taxi driver was 80% at fault for Stephen's death and the unidentified vehicle was 20% at fault.
The Defendants tried to say that Stephen caused or contributed to his own death and the money his family received should be reduced.
The court did not agree and said that Stephen's drunkenness had no connection with the breach of duty of either the taxi driver or the unknown driver.
The court said ....
"taxi drivers perform an important social role in relation to drunk people, a role which must carry with it some responsibility. A taxi driver who voluntarily assumes responsibility for taking a drunk person to a certain address should take all reasonable steps to do so and should not simply leave a passenger and drive off."
Damages were awarded for the loss of support which Stephen Crouch would have provided to his partner and children.
The family was awarded $762,350. This is much higher than the average payout for fatal accidents (See image below).
The decision of the Court as to which defendant was most at fault for Stephen's death is of particular interest.
It is not unreasonable to see that if a person is left drunk on the footpath that there is a risk that person would wake up, wander onto the road and be hit by a vehicle.
This decision is particularly helpful if you or a friend or family member is ever injured because a taxi driver has not taken reasonable steps to ensure you have arrived safety at your intended destination, particularly if they have had too much to drink.
This decision is an example of a claim against the Nominal Defendant involving either unregistered or unidentified vehicles. They have increased significantly in the last year (see image below).
Ultimately this decision is a partially positive outcome for Stephen's partner and children. They are not left struggling financially and are adequately compensated for the negligence of both the taxi driver and the unknown driver.
Nothing will replace the grief of losing a loved one. Make sure you get your friends home safely wherever possible..