Dunnett v Railtrack (2002)

Ms Dunnett kept horses in a field next to the railway line owned by Railtrack. An existing self-closing gate leading from the field to the railway line was replaced by Railtrack with a gate which did not automatically close.

When the gate was left open by others, three horses strayed onto the line and were killed. Ms Dunnett sued Railtrack as a result.

Liability was disputed and went through to the Court of Appeal where Railtrack won the case on technical legal grounds.

However, when permission to proceed to the Court of Appeal was granted, the lower court stated that mediation should be attempted. Railtrack flatly refused to mediate as they believed that they would win their case at appeal.

In fact, Railtrack did win the appeal but, although costs normally follow the award, in this case they were denied costs as a result of their refusal to mediate.

This case was a landmark decision as far as mediation was concerned and followed earlier cases warning of possible cost sanctions. Dunnett v Railtrack applied them.

See the comments made by Lord Justice Brooke at the foot of the Home page.

As an aside, Ms Dunnett sent a letter to each member of the Court after the appeal in which she stated - "In finishing, I would like to reinforce your knowledge and experience of Alternative Dispute Resolution.  If at any point Railtrack would have said that they regretted what had happened, we would have dropped the whole matter.  This case was never about money.......".  This comment reinforces one of the main advantages of mediation in that settlements are not restricted to monetary payments and that a simple apology can work wonders in some cases.  See Mediation - Why it Works.


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