Brown v Sestras: accurate hearsay or an unhappy series of unfortunate coincidences?
Mistaken identity is an unusual defence in personal injury litigation.
That was the argument run to trial by a Mr Sestras, who found himself accused of causing an accident on the A10 in Hertfordshire in 2017.
The child Claimant was a rear-seat passenger in his mother’s Peugeot car when a black Mercedes cut in front of it at speed. The Claimant’s mother (who was sued as an additional defendant) lost control of the Peugeot and crashed. Sadly the Claimant had taken his seatbelt off to fiddle with his shoe at the critical moment, and was very seriously injured. The black Mercedes did not stop after the accident.
How did the Claimant know who to sue? Shortly after the accident an anonymous caller told the police that he had managed to follow the Mercedes after it drove off. He gave the police a registration number. This registration number did indeed belong to a black Mercedes, owned by Mr Sestras. He was duly visited by the police and arrested, but insisted he knew nothing about the incident.
Unfortunately for Mr Sestras (i) the other passengers in the Claimant’s car gave a description of both the Mercedes and its passengers that matched Mr Sestras’s car, Mr Sestras himself, and his wife; (ii) he was forced to concede he had been on the A10 at roughly the time of the accident, his car having been captured by an ANPR camera – they were on their way home after watching drag racing at Santa Pod, and (iii) his evidence, and that of his passengers, was inconsistent and unconvincing.
Following trial HHJ Howells (sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge) had little difficulty in rejecting the idea that Mr Sestras was merely “the unhappy victim of a series of unlucky coincidences”. She found he was indeed the driver of the black Mercedes, and had not been honest in saying otherwise.
Of course, having denied he was there at all, Mr Sestras was left with no opportunity to defend or explain the actual manner of his driving, and was found entirely to blame for the accident. The Claimant’s mother was absolved of any responsibility.
The case establishes no new law, but it illustrates a few (well established) points which practitioners should bear in mind:
- Hearsay evidence can be a powerful tool.
- Its weight should be assessed bearing in mind the considerations set out in s.4(2) of the Civil Evidence Act 1995.
- A party’s case will always be tested against the totality of the evidence, including the inherent probabilities, the internal consistency of the evidence, and the performance of live witnesses under cross-examination.
Link to the judgment: Brown & Anor v Sestras & Ors  EWHC 1220 (KB)