Roberts v Ramsbottom – Case Summary

Roberts v Ramsbottom

High Court

Citations: [1980] 1 WLR 823; [1980] 1 All ER 7; [1980] RTR 261; (1980) 124 SJ 313; [1980] CLY 1882.


The defendant was driving in his car when he suddenly suffered a stroke. The defendant knew he did not feel well. He also had some awareness of what was happening. During this time, he had two collisions (though he had no recollection of this). The defendant nevertheless kept driving and ultimately crashed into the claimant’s parked car. The claimant was injured and suffered property damage. They sued the defendant in negligence.

  1. What standard of care should be imposed on a driver who suffers from a physical illness?

The High Court held in favour of the claimant. The defendant had not completely lost control of his actions, which fell below the objective standard of care imposed on drivers. It did not matter that the defendant did not appreciate the significance of his symptoms (being unaware he was having a stroke).

This Case is Authority For…

The standard of care imposed in negligence is objective. Where the defendant’s illness or infirmity causes of his behaviour, he will still be negligent unless he has the automatism defence.


This case is often presented as conflicting with the decision in Mansfield v Weetabix [1997] EWCA Civ 1352, where the defendant was held to the standard of a sick person. The Court of Appeal in Mansfield disapproved of, but did not overrule, Ramsbottom.

The Court of Appeal in Mansfield argued that the defendant in Mansfield had no reason to believe he was sick and lost the ability to appreciate that he was out of control once he became hypoglycaemic. In Roberts, the defendant already had warning signs that someone was wrong before he hit the claimant and was aware that he did not feel well. Therefore, he should have stopped driving at that point.

In any case, since Mansfield is a Court of Appeal decision and Roberts was decided in the High Court, Mansfield has more authority. If in doubt, apply Mansfield.