A recent decision of the County Court in Manchester has addressed the question of whether an incident involving an individual who is injured whilst traveling on a tram can be defined as a Road Traffic Accident.
In the matter of Charlene Wilson v Stagecoach Group Limited in which Just Costs acted for the Claimant, the Court found that a tram could not be considered to be “intended or adapted” for use on the road and therefore the Defendant could not successfully argue that the incident was a road traffic accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place. The effect of this was that the Claimant’s solicitors were not restricted to payment of fixed recoverable costs for the work done in pursuing the claim.
The claim arose out of an accident that occurred on 21st September 2010 when the Claimant was a passenger on a tram. The tram derailed causing a collision with a lamppost. Her claim was for personal injury, loss and damage. A letter of claim was sent to the Defendant and liability was admitted within the protocol period subject to proof that the Claimant was a passenger on the tram at the time of the accident. In the course of the claim and in negotiations the Defendant made a settlement offer in the sum of £2,650 which was eventually accepted prior to proceedings being issued by the Claimant, which concluded her claim with the exception of costs.
Part 8 costs-only proceedings were issued and detailed assessment proceedings were commenced. Within his points of dispute, the Defendant argued that the Claimant’s claim for costs should be limited to either fixed fees or calculated in accordance with the predictive costs regime (CPR 45.9(2)) on the basis that the claim fell within the definition of an RTA provided for at Civil Procedure Rule 45.9(4). The Claimant rejected these assertions. At provisional assessment the Court found in favour of the Claimant. The Defendant requested an oral hearing.
This Section applies where –
(a) the dispute arises from a road traffic accident occurring on or after 6 October 2003;
(b) the agreed damages include damages in respect of personal injury, damage to property, or both;
(c) the total value of the agreed damages does not exceed £10,000; and
(d) if a claim had been issued for the amount of the agreed damages, the small claims track would not have been the normal track for that claim.
‘road traffic accident’ means an accident resulting in bodily injury to any person or damage to property caused by, or arising out of, the use of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place in England and Wales;
‘motor vehicle’ means a mechanically propelled vehicle intended for use on roads; and
‘road’ means any highway and any other road to which the public has access and includes bridges over which a road passes.
Burns v Currell  2 All ER 297
The Divisional Court had to consider whether a mechanically propelled vehicle known as a Go-Kart was a motor vehicle within the meaning of provisions of earlier legislation with had the same effect as the relevant words in section 185 of the 1988 Act. Lord Parker CJ gave the lead judgment when he said:-
“Thus in the ordinary case it seems to me that there will be little difficulty in saying whether a particular vehicle is a motor vehicle or not. But to define exactly the meaning of the words “intended or adapted” is by no means easy. For my part, I think that the expression “intended,” to take that word first, does not mean “intended by the user of the vehicle either at the moment of the alleged offence or for the future”. I do not think that it means the intention of the manufacturer or the wholesaler or the retailer; and it may be, as Salmon J said in Daley’s case  1 WLR 487, that it is not referring to the intention as such of any particular purpose. Salmon J suggested that “intended” might be paraphrased as “suitable or apt”. It may be merely a difference of wording, but I prefer to make the test whether a reasonable person looking at the vehicle would say that one of its users would be a road user. In deciding that question, the reasonable man would not, as I conceive, have to envisage what some man losing his senses would do with the vehicle; nor an isolated user or a user in an emergency. The real question is: is some general use on the roads contemplated as one of the users?”
The reasonable person test was used and developed in the Court of Appeal decisions of Director of Public Prosecutions v Sandington  RTR 15, when the Court considered whether the operator of a scooter could be considered a road user. The Court found that road use was within the contemplation of the reasonable person and therefore roadworthiness of the scooter was not a crucial issue. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of a District Judge in the case of Director of Public Prosecutions v King  EWHC 447 where the District judge had applied the reasonable person test.
The Claimant’s submissions
The Claimant conceded that the accident resulted in bodily injury plus damage to property of the Claimant and that it had incurred in England or Wales. Furthermore the Claimant did not challenge that a tram is a mechanically propelled vehicle. The Claimant disputed predictive costs were recoverable on account of a tram not being intended or adapted for use on roads. The Claimant submitted that this was a subjective test to be applied by the Court. The Court should ask itself the question: would a reasonable person say that one of its uses would be general use on a road? The Claimant contended that trams do not run on the street or road, they run on trams laid into the road, therefore the Court should ask itself the further question: would the tram continue to operate without the tracks?
From the circumstances of the claim, the Claimant contended that it was self-evident that the tram could not continue to function.
The Court agreed with the Claimant’s submissions and applied the test accordingly. In applying the test set out in the case law the Court could not be persuaded that a tram could be considered to be “intended or adapted” for use on the road. A reasonable person could not consider that a tram is “intended or adapted” for use on roads, simply because some of the tracks run on roads and streets. If one took away those tracks which were laid into the road, a tram could not travel on the road. The Court therefore, disagreed with the submissions made by the Defendant and awarded costs on the standard basis.
This decision provides clarity on a grey area of the law, which has plagued both Claimant and Defendant Solicitors for some time. Furthermore it is a working example of the test to be used by the Court to be applied to other types of vehicle in the future.
Chris Stephenson – Costs Lawyer