It's a sweltering hot bank holiday and you've taken a taxi to go to your local supermarket with your family to do your weekly shop.
After purchasing your goods you phone for a cab to pick you and your family up and take you home. The controller in the cab office tells you that a cab will be with you in approximately 20 minutes.
The cab doesn't arrive and after 20 minutes, you call them again and the controller says it could be another hour, however, 10 minutes later a cab arrives.
During the wait, some of the frozen produce melts, including a tub of ice-cream. Incensed, you demand recompense from the cab company for the food which melted in the heat.
Sound preposterous? This actually happened to Melvin Lee of Folkestone when he ordered a cab from his local cab company after shopping at Asda. Mr Lee is now demanding compensation for the provisions which melted in the heat. A representative of the cab company involved has offered to refund Mr Lee the cost of the tub of ice-cream, approximately £1.50.
This situation does bring up a serious question; where does a taxi or private hire (PHV) driver's liability begin and end?
The moment an individual gets into a taxi or PHV an agreement to take a party from a to b is made, the driver becomes responsible for that party. Therefore any damage to the person or property in the vehicle could be deemed as being the driver’s responsibility if he or she has acted negligently.
The burden of responsibility shifts if the customer acts negligently, for example, if a passenger puts a bag of shopping on the seat and the driver has to brake sharply, resulting in the shopping falling over and a dozen eggs smashing, that would be the passenger’s fault. However if the driver puts the shopping on the seat and the same thing happens then the driver could be liable because he or she has placed the shopping there unrestrained.
But who is liable if an onward journey is missed because a cab is either late to the pick-up or late to the destination?
The answer to this question has many variables. If a taxi is hailed on the street and is asked to go to a station, but because of circumstances en-route the passenger arrives late for their train, the driver is in no-way liable as long as there was no negligence involved on the driver’s part. However if the driver has directly made the passenger late due to negligence, then the driver may be liable. This does of course make the assumption that the passenger has allowed a reasonable amount of time to get to their location in the first place.
The burden of responsibility shifts somewhat with pre-booked taxis and PHVs. If a driver is late to a pick-up, it could be argued that the operator is responsible on the basis that it isn't the driver making the booking. Again the variables are eye-watering as there are a number of factors that could determine fault or responsibility on either side.
As an example, an operator says that a cab will arrive in 20 minutes, however the cab arrives after 40 minutes, could the operator be held responsible if they didn't know the driver would be late? The short answer is yes as the booking or contract is with the operator and not the driver.
However if the passenger is then made aware there could be a further delay by contacting the cab company then it is arguable that the responsibility shifts back to the passenger as they now have the option of making alternative arrangements.
This now brings us back to Mr Lee and his tub of melted soft-scoop ice-cream, is the driver responsible for Mr Lee's melting misfortune?
The responsibility could actually lay with Mr Lee himself because he was aware it was a bank holiday and therefore busy and was aware that the cab could take at least 20 minutes to arrive, therefore he could have taken steps to protect his shopping by waiting in a shaded area.
It is not impossible that the cab company could be liable, but that would depend on whether the operator knew that there may be a wait in-excess of 20 minutes.
In brief, liability is a minefield, the simple answer is always order a cab in good time, make sure as a controller you aren't under-estimating a pick-up time, always secure your shopping, make sure you don't foul-up en-route, and most important of all - don't buy ice cream and leave it in direct sunlight on a searing hot bank holiday Monday.
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