Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED April 14, 2003

The Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago was wrong to overrule clear findings of fact made by the trial judge whose order in favour of the appellant in a road traffic accident case was restored.Appeal from the judgment of the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago allowing an appeal from the decision of Bereaux J that the appellant was not responsible for a road traffic accident. The appellant was driving his truck when he was in collision with the respondent's car at an uncontrolled intersection. In Trinidad the rule at such a crossing was that whichever vehicle entered the intersection first had right of way. The appellant's truck ended up stationary, facing in the direction in which it had been travelling, at the edge of the intersection. The truck's front bumper was twisted but otherwise it was undamaged. The car was extensively damaged and travelled a considerable distance before coming to rest. Neither driver sustained any significant injury. The respondent commenced proceedings alleging negligence and the appellant counterclaimed. The judge accepted the evidence of the appellant, which was supported by that of a witness, on the basis that their evidence was more consistent with the undisputed facts, in particular the positions in which the two vehicles came to rest and the damage. He therefore found that the driver of the respondent's car was entirely at fault. The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal. The appellant appealed to the Privy Council.HELD: (1) The Court of Appeal was wrong to overrule the clear findings of fact made by the judge. He was faced with two totally conflicting versions and had to decide which witnesses were telling the truth. He did so, relying not only on their demeanour but also on largely undisputed facts as to the damage to the vehicles and their positions after the accident. The acceptance of the evidence of the appellant and the witness was for practical purposes determinative of the case and the Court of Appeal was not entitled to interfere. (2) The Court of Appeal was wrong to suppose that the damage to the vehicles supported the respondent's case rather than the appellant's. The judge's inferences were to be preferred. (3) There was no proper evidential basis for the Court of Appeal to substitute its own findings of negligence and contributory negligence against the appellant.Appeal allowed.

[2003] UKPC 29