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Standards of care owed by motorbike instructor and their trainee

16 March 2023

Giles Kellner, Partner, discusses the implications of a recent liability decision in a case arising out of a road traffic accident involving a trainee motorcyclist, in which he and Darryl Allen KC acted for the defendant.

Evans v A1 Motorcycle Training & Sales Limited – Sheffield County Court, 10 March 2023


A trainee motorcyclist brought a claim against a motorcycle training school after she was involved in a road traffic accident during a riding lesson, resulting in very serious injuries, including a forequarter amputation and traumatic brain injury.

HHJ Sadiq was required to make findings of fact about the circumstances in which the accident occurred and then to consider whether the defendant was in breach of its duty to the claimant and, if so, whether any breach caused the accident. The crux of the case was whether it had been appropriate for the claimant to progress to the more powerful motorcycle she was riding when the accident occurred.

Dismissing the claim, the judge found:

  • There was no breach of duty on the part of the individual instructor or the defendant training school.
  • The claimant's accident was caused by her loss of control of the bike.
  • Even if the claimant had established breach of duty, any breach was not causative of her accident.
  • The duty of a motorcycle instructor is not to ensure a trainee's safety nor to demonstrate best practice but is to exercise reasonable skill and care in the performance of their duties.
  • A learner rider owes the same objective reasonable standard of care as an experienced rider.
  • Had primary liability been established, the judge would have found 60% contributory negligence.


In 2016, the claimant was a learner motorcyclist, having previously ridden a 250cc bike on private land. In order to ride on public roads, she would need a licence, so she booked a series of lessons with the defendant.

At trial, there was a dispute between the parties as to whether the claimant wanted to obtain an "A" licence, which would allow her to ride any motorcycle, or an "A2" licence which would have allowed her to ride her 250cc bike but not much larger bikes.

The first stage of training for any novice motorcyclist is passing the Compulsory Basic Training (CBT), which the claimant did on 15 August 2016 on a 125cc motorcycle.

On the morning of day two of her lessons, on 16 August 2016, she rode the 125cc, but for the afternoon session was moved up to a 500cc. Following a period of familiarisation, the claimant and her instructor went on to public roads on the 500cc and covered 90-100 miles.

On 17 August 2016, the claimant was provided with a 650cc motorcycle and rode around 100 miles. She claimed that the decision to place her on the 650cc was the instructor's alone and that she struggled with the larger bike.

The instructor was then unavailable for two months. The claimant returned to the defendant school for further training on 17 October 2016. Whereas previously she had enjoyed “1-to-1” lessons, on 17 October she was in a small group lesson with one other rider, who had more general motorbike experience than her. She was allocated a 650cc. Her lay evidence described a series of incidents and alarming “near misses”. As the claimant was negotiating a bend, she lost control of the bike and continued straight on, into collision with a refuse wagon which was travelling in the opposite direction, as a result of which the claimant sadly sustained very serious injuries.

The Police took a witness statement from the claimant two months later. That statement:

  • acknowledged that the claimant had continued with further lessons in order “to be able to ride a larger bike.
  • contained no criticism of the instructor or the size or power of the motorbikes allocated to her.
  • contained positive comments about the training provided, “The last lesson I feel went well apart from not hitting the speed limit.

Issues in the case

The key issues for the judge to decide were:

  1. Whether there was any breach of duty on the part of the individual instructor/the defendant.
  2. Whether, even if the instructor's breach of duty was established, it caused the claimant's loss of control of the 650cc bike on 17 October 2016.
  3. The extent of any contributory negligence. The defendant contended that the claimant owed a duty of care to other road users, pedestrians and the instructor, per Nettleship v Weston [1971] 2 QB 691 (CA). If the claimant felt unable to ride the 650cc bike safely and with appropriate control, then she should not have taken it out on the road.

The factual issues

The court heard evidence from the claimant, the claimant’s daughter, a fellow learner independent witness who had provided a witness statement for both parties, the motorcycle instructor and a director of the defendant company.

It also heard oral expert evidence from Road Accident Consultants: for the claimant, Mr Douglas Boulton, and for the defendant, Mr Paul Dickinson.

The oral evidence was important in establishing whether the instructor had acted with reasonable skill and care, whether he had planned the lessons, provided feedback, and progressed the claimant's move to larger bikes appropriately.

Further, the oral evidence went to whether the claimant's riding – and in particular her contention that she had been criticised for riding slowly and had had “near misses” - should have led the instructor to stop her lessons on the bigger bikes.


HHJ Sadiq preferred the evidence of the defendant's lay and expert witnesses and found that (paragraph 97):

  • The claimant had confirmed that she wanted an "A" licence to ride bigger bikes.
  • She had received appropriate familiarisation on the 500cc and 650cc bikes.
  • Prior to the accident, the claimant had ridden the bigger bikes for substantial distances without any significant problems.
  • At no stage did the claimant complain to the defendant about poor communication and an uncomfortably fast rate of progression.
  • It was reasonable for the instructor to put the claimant on the 650cc motorcycle after the break of two months.
  • The accident happened when the claimant lost control, but that loss of control was not caused by any breach of duty on the part of the instructor.
  • Even if the claimant had established breach of duty, the breach was not causative of her accident.
  • A learner rider owes the same objective reasonable standard of care as an experienced rider.
  • Had primary liability been established, damages would have been reduced by 60% for contributory negligence.


Substantial weight was placed on the contemporaneous police statement, which contradicted the claimant's oral evidence at trial.

Suitable concessions by lay and expert witnesses will assist a trial judge to assess whether their evidence is fair.

An expert witness may be criticised for raising issues in his oral evidence that have not been covered in his evidence previously (paragraph 71).

The claimant's expert erroneously applied a standard of best practice instead of the proper approach of reasonable skill and care (paragraph 71).

Even if the claimant had established a breach of duty to exercise reasonable care and skill, any breach was not causative of her accident. It was not suggested in the claimant’s expert evidence that riding the 650cc motorcycle was the cause of her accident. The high point of his evidence was that she should have been given more time on the 500cc, but there was no evidence that the accident would not have happened on a 500cc motorcycle and/or the claimant’s injuries would have been less severe (paragraph 99).

The high level of contributory negligence that the judge would have found indicates that the duty on trainees – be it on a motorbike or in a car – to take personal responsibility for their riding / driving is a high one.

Read the full judgment here >

For further information please do not hesitate to contact Giles Kellner.

Further Reading