AN “experienced” teenage equestrian injured when her horse collided with a campervan is due almost £90,000 compensation after an Appeal Court ruling.
Sally Stoddart was only 14, but already a veteran in the saddle, when her horse Trigger was hit by the van, driven by Joseph Perucca, as she emerged from a bridleway on to Burdon Lane, Sunderland, on her way back to Stoneygate Stables.
The horse, which survived the crash, rolled on to the teenager, causing lasting damage to her pelvis and she is likely to need a hip replacement in years to come.
A judge at Newcastle County Court last year found Miss Stoddart and Mr Perucca were equally to blame for the crash and awarded the horse rider £87,400.
Mr Perucca this week challenged that decision at London’s Civil Appeal Court, arguing the judge should have found Miss Stoddart bore the lion’s share of responsibility for the accident.
But his appeal was dismissed by judges, who said the county court judge made “no error” in apportioning blame for the crash 50/50.
The court heard the accident happened “early on a summer’s evening” in June 2002, as the teenager was returning to the stables after enjoying a ride with a friend.
She had owned Trigger for two months before the incident and her mount was a “good-tempered” horse, who was “at ease” around traffic.
The county court judge said Miss Stoddart was an “extremely experienced” horsewoman, despite her youth, having been riding since she was seven, and had been on this particular road many times before.
But he found that, despite “recognising the need” to check the road before crossing, she emerged from the bridleway at a “fast walk or trot” and failed to keep a proper lookout.
Mr Perucca was driving at about 40mph on the road – which has a 60mph speed limit – but the judge said he should have slowed down more after seeing Miss Stoddart’s friend cross the road on horseback shortly before her.
Tim Grover, for Mr Perucca, argued the judge was wrong to find he was equally to blame for the accident, saying the teenager “rode directly into the path of the vehicle”.
The barrister said she was not in the position of a “child who runs out on to a road” but was on horseback and horses are capable of causing a “great deal” of damage – both to their riders and motorists.
He added: “She disregarded the most fundamental aspects of road safety and put herself in a position where the accident was inevitable.
“Her blameworthiness therefore, should be assessed at the very upper end of the scale, and the judge’s apportionment failed to adequately reflect this.”
Mr Grover said it would have been “more appropriate” to find Miss Stoddart 75 per cent responsible for her own misfortune.
Eliot Woolf, for the teenager, argued the judge’s decision was correct and highlighted previous court rulings which treat motorists as having the greater responsibility because a car is “potentially a lethal weapon”.
Lord Justice Sedley, sitting with Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Hooper, dismissed the van driver’s appeal saying that, although there was “force” in Mr Grover’s argument, it did not show the county court judge made any error of law.