Woods v Francis

JurisdictionCayman Islands
Judge(Summerfield, C.J.)
Judgment Date13 December 1985
CourtGrand Court (Cayman Islands)
Date13 December 1985
Grand Court

(Summerfield, C.J.)

A. WOODS (as Administrator of the Estate of N.E. WOODS, Deceased)

P. Lamontagne, Q.C. and T. Shea for the plaintiff;

N. Hill, Q. C., Miss R. Irving and W. Rodger for the defendant.

Cases cited:

(1) Gammell v. Wilson, [1982] A.C. 27; [1981] 1 All E.R. 578; (1981), 125 Sol. Jo. 116.

(2) Harris v. Empress Motors Ltd., [1984] 1 W.L.R. 212; [1983] 3 All E.R. 561, not followed.

(3) McCann v. Sheppard, [1973] 1 W.L.R. 540; [1973] 2 All E.R. 881; [1973] 1 Lloyd”s Rep. 561; (1973), 117 Sol. Jo. 323.

(4) Pickett v. British Rail Engr. Ltd., [1980] A.C. 136; [1979] 1 All E.R. 774; [1979] 1 Lloyd”s Rep. 519; (1978), 122 Sol. Jo. 778, dictum of Lord Salmon applied.

(5) Skelton v. CollinsUNK(1966), 115 C.L.R. 94; 39 A.L.J.R. 480; [1966] Argus L.R. 449.

(6) Taylor v. Taylor, [1970] 1 W.L.R. 1148; [1970] 2 All E.R. 609, dicta of Davies, L.J. considered.

(7) Wauchope v. Mordecai, [1970] 1 W.L.R. 317; [1970] 1 All E.R. 417; (1969), 113 Sol. Jo. 941, dicta of Lord Denning, M.R. considered.

Legislation construed:

Evidence Law, 1978 (Law 13 of 1978), s.30(1): The relevant terms of this sub-section are the same as those in the equivalent English provision set out at page 516, lines 29–34.

s.32(1): The relevant terms of this sub-section are the same as those in the equivalent English provision set out at page 516, line 36 – page 517, line 8.

s.37(2): The relevant terms of this sub-section are set out at page 515, lines 7–11.

Law of Torts Reform Law (Revised), s.4(1):

‘Every action brought under section 3 shall be for the benefit of a dependant or dependants of the person whose death has been so caused . . . and in every such action the court may give such damages as it thinks proportioned to the injury resulting from such death to the parties respectively for whom and for whose benefit such action is brought . . . .’

Tort-damages-contributory negligence-failure of driver or front seat passenger to wear seat belt justifies reduction in award of damages if seat belt would have prevented death or serious injury

Tort-damages-lost years-multiplier/multiplicand formula inappropriate but, if used, multiplicand would be balance of deceased”s annual income after deduction of all expenditure constituting net outflow, i.e. including expenditure on dependants

Tort-damages-lost years-award compensates estate for reduction in ultimate value resulting from early death-deceased”s age and income, effect of possible marriage or early retirement, rate of capital growth and effect of inflation considered, and allowance made for increase in lump sum immediately placed on deposit with compound interest

The plaintiff brought an action against the defendant to recover damages for the benefit of a deceased”s estate, under the Estates Proceedings Law, 1974 and for the benefit of the deceased”s mother under Part II of the Law of Torts Reform Law.

The deceased was killed when his car collided with one driven by the defendant. At the time of his death the deceased was 45 years old, unmarried and employed at an annual salary of $75,000. He had savings of $190,000 and his total expenditure during the last year of his life had been $35,000, of which $15,000 had been spent in support of his mother, who was 86 years old and in poor health.

The defendant was convicted of causing the death of the deceased by dangerous driving. The plaintiff, as administrator of the deceased”s estate, brought the present proceedings under the Estates Proceedings Law, 1974 to recover, for the benefit of the estate, damages for the ‘lost years,’ damages for loss of expectation of life ($2,000) and special damages (agreed at $10,340); and, under Part II of the Law of Torts Reform Law, for the benefit of the deceased”s mother, his only dependant, damages for loss of dependency. It was conceded that in the circumstances of this case, the claim for loss of dependency was subsumed in the claim for the ‘lost years.’

To prove liability the plaintiff relied upon the defendant”s conviction for causing the death by dangerous driving, under the Evidence Law, 1978, s.37, whereby, in civil proceedings, if a person is proved to have been convicted of an offence he shall be taken to have committed it

unless the contrary is proved. To establish how the accident occurred the plaintiff relied on certified copies of the evidence of witnesses called on behalf of the Crown at the trial of the defendant, introducing this evidence under s.30 or s.32 of the Evidence Law, 1978. According to the prosecution case, the accident had occurred when the defendant pulled out to overtake in the face of oncoming traffic. Two witnesses gave evidence that the headlights on the deceased”s car were switched on at the relevant time.

The defendant adduced evidence to establish that he was not driving dangerously at the time of the accident which, he alleged, was caused by the deceased”s own negligent driving as he joined the busy main road from an unlit minor road. He further alleged that the deceased”s headlights were not switched on, although it was dark at the time of the accident. He submitted that since, in the criminal proceedings, the jury was told that the prosecution did not have to establish that the defendant”s driving was the sole cause of the accident, but only that it was a substantial cause, and that if it were a substantial cause they could properly reach a verdict of guilty, even if the deceased himself had contributed to the accident, the verdict did not negative the possibility of contributory negligence on the part of the deceased. The defendant also counterclaimed for special and general damages.

None of the pleadings referred to the possible failure of the defendant or the deceased to wear a seat belt but the court considered what effect such failure would have on the assessment of damages.

On the issue of damages, the plaintiff submitted that the appropriate multiplicand for the assessment of damages for the ‘lost years’ was the balance of the deceased”s annual income after deduction of his own living expenses and that the expenditure of $15,000 per year in support of his mother should be disregarded for this purpose.

The defendant, however, submitted that all expenditure which would have reduced the value of the deceased”s estate should be deducted from the amount of his annual income in order to arrive at the appropriate multiplicand and, furthermore, that the court should also take account of all the possible future events which might have affected the value of the estate.

Held, giving judgment for the plaintiff:

(1) The defendant had failed to establish, on a balance of probabilities, that it was not his own dangerous driving that caused the accident. There was an abundance of evidence which justified the jury”s rejection of the defendant”s version of events at his criminal trial and its verdict was entitled to very great weight. The evidence adduced by the defendant had not rebutted the presumption of the commission of the offence which arose, under the Evidence Law, 1978, s.37(2), from his conviction, and the plaintiff had therefore succeeded in establishing liability (page 520, line 16 – page 521, line 4; page 521, lines 10–26).

(2) The defendant had also failed to establish any contributory negligence by the deceased which would justify a reduction in the award of

damages. It was very improbable that the deceased would have driven down an unlit minor road, and since two witnesses had said that at the relevant time the headlights were switched on, it could properly be accepted that they were. It was, however, a well-known fact that very few people in the Islands wore car seat belts and, therefore, in the absence of contrary evidence, on the balance of probability, the deceased was not wearing one. Although the wearing of seat belts was not compulsory, drivers and front seat passengers had a duty to take ail available precautions to minimise injury and diminish the danger of death and the deceased”s failure to wear a seat belt would, therefore, have been a ground for reducing the award of damages if a seat belt would have improved his chances of escaping death or serious injury. In fact, it was more likely than not that the accident would have killed the deceased even if he had worn a seat belt and the level of damages would not therefore be affected (page 521, line 27 – page 523, line 25).

(3) Since special damages had been agreed at $10,340 and the award for loss of expectation of life was conventionally set at $2,000, only damages for the ‘lost years’ remained to be assessed, i.e. damages intended to compensate the deceased”s estate for the reduction in its ultimate value resulting from his early death. It would not be proper to calculate them simply by taking a figure representing the deceased”s annual savings (i.e. the balance of his income after deduction of all expenditure constituting net outflow and therefore including expenditure on dependants) and applying a multiplier based on the deceased”s expectation of life (i.e. about 26 years at age 45). Although his age and income were relevant, there were several other factors to be taken into account; for example, (i) the deceased might yet have married and this would have reduced his rate of saving; (ii) a lump sum immediately placed on deposit with compound interest would increase considerably over a period of 26 years and an award of damages could properly be reduced to allow for this; (in) the deceased might have chosen to retire before the end of his life and might thus have depleted his capital in his later years, perhaps by purchasing an annuity; and (iv) the rate of capital growth and the effects of inflation would have affected the real value of the estate in 26 years” time. An award of $90,000 would therefore fairly compensate the estate for the ‘lost years’ (page 523, line 26 – page 527, line 23).

(4) No award would...

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2 cases
  • Woods v Francis
    • Cayman Islands
    • Court of Appeal (Cayman Islands)
    • 1 December 1986
    ...and (f) the court therefore gave judgment for the plaintiff for a total of $102,340. The proceedings in the Grand Court are reported at 1984–85 CILR 510. On appeal, the appellant submitted that the proper approach had not been adopted in the assessment of the quantum of damages under the Es......
  • Francis v Woods
    • Cayman Islands
    • Court of Appeal (Cayman Islands)
    • 14 March 1989
    ...Court of Appeal, the sum awarded was increased substantially. The proceedings in the Grand Court and the Court of Appeal are reported at 1984–85 CILR 510 and 1986–87 CILR 207 respectively. At the criminal trial, a sketch plan of the scene of the accident had been tendered in evidence. In th......

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