• In the case of Pitts v Hunt [1991] 1 Q.B. 24, it was held that a motorcycle pillion passenger who is injured in a collision where they encouraged the rider to ride while intoxicated, uninsured and unlicensed cannot sue in respect of their injuries.

Facts of the Case

  • On 10th September 1983, C (aged 18) and D1 (aged 16) went to a disco and drank until their blood alcohol levels were over twice the permitted limit.
  • D1 set off on his motorcycle for home with C sitting pillion. C was aware that D was not insured or licensed to ride on the road.
  • Witnesses of the motorcycle on the motorway saw that it was weaving from side to side, nearly hitting pedestrians as it did so.
  • D2 (aged 26) was about to turn off the road when D1 approached him from the wrong side. D2 moved to the offside but D1 swerved into him.
  • D1 died of his injuries, while C was left permanently partially disabled.
  • The judge at first instance cleared D2 of wrongdoing and held that C should have known D1 was unsuitable to drive. He also held that C had aided and abetted D1’s reckless driving, leaving C unable to claim.


  • Since C knew D1 was unlicensed, uninsured, and intoxicated and he had encouraged D1’s reckless driving, did that prevent C from claiming damages

Held by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

  • Finding for D1, that C’s action arose from his own tortious act of aiding and abetting D1’s conduct. As such, the defence of illegality prevented C from claiming damages, and the Road Traffic Act 1972 did not preclude this.

Lord Justice Beldam

  • Since the days of Lord Mansfield, public policy has held that a court will not lend its aid to a man who bases his cause of action on an illegal or immoral act. This originated in Holman v Johnson [1775] 1 Cowp 341. There is a distinction between intentional acts and unintentional acts that are grossly negligent.
  • Cases discussing motor accidents, the courts tend to adopt a pragmatic approach, seeking where possible to see that genuine wrongs are righted so long as the court did not thereby promote wrongdoing or bargain for conduct it is bound to condemn.
  • “Although it is part of that policy that passengers carried on or in vehicles who sustain injury should be compensated, it is clear that Parliament did not regard it as essential that the driver of a vehicle who by his own fault injures himself should be required to insure against that risk. Parliament did however provide that, of the various offences specifically relating to the use of motor vehicles, causing death by reckless driving, reckless driving itself and driving when under the influence of drink and drugs were to be regarded as among the most serious of offences and were to be punishable by imprisonment. Parliament did not expressly provide that a passenger who took part with the driver in the commission of such offences should not be entitled to the benefit of the provisions designed to secure that he should receive compensation” [45H].
  • C played a full and active part in encouraging D1 to commit offences which, if someone else had died instead of him, would have amounted to manslaughter by commission of a dangerous act. Public policy prevents C from recovering compensation since he sustained them during the course of very serious offences C was participating in.
  • It is not desirable to attempt to categorise the degree of seriousness involved in offences which will not preclude recovery of compensation. Public conscience is ever increasingly being focussed not only on those who commit the offence but those who ask the driver to drink and drive.
  • There have been arguments concerning the blameworthiness that suggest a greater degree of fault on the older boy to the younger, or on the rider to the passenger. I would not entertain these arguments here. C and D1 participated equally in the illegal and dangerous escapade regardless of their own safety or that of others.