A farmer who died in a road traffic accident in Co Donegal has been found by the High Court to be predominantly responsible for the crash because he did not have a flashing yellow light on his tractor.

William Wilson died at the scene of the collision. He was thrown backwards from the tractor and died as a result of his injuries when it was hit from behind by Darren James.

Mr James sued Mr Wilson’s estate for injuries resulting from the road traffic accident.

Justice Anthony Barr found Mr Wilson to be 75% responsible for the accident and Mr James 25%.

Road traffic accident

The accident happened on the N14 Lifford to Letterkenny road on the morning of 12 January 2018 at approximately 6.50am. Both parties were travelling towards Letterkenny.

The speed limit on the section of the road where the crash occurred was 100km/h.

Both vehicles had come around a sweeping right hand bend and were proceeding in a relatively straight portion towards a sweeping left-hand bend.

Mr Wilson was driving his 1965 Massey Ferguson. It had a transport box attached. Mr James was driving his 2003 Seat Alhambra people carrier.

Mr James left his house at 6.15am to travel to Letterkenny for work as a fruit and vegetable delivery man.

Mr James said having come round the right-hand bend and while proceeding towards the sweeping left-hand bend, he struck something.

He said he did not see any lights in front of him. All he was aware of was a very loud bang, as his vehicle struck what was in front of him.

His car stopped on the left side of the road 53m from the point of impact.

Mr James was unable to get out of his car. He was removed from the vehicle by the emergency services and was taken to Letterkenny General Hospital by ambulance.

He said he was adamant that there was no flashing yellow beacon on the roof of the cab of the defendant’s tractor.


One of the central issues in the case was the speed Mr James was driving at. He said he could not recall the speed, but it was within the speed limit.

The speedometer on Mr James’ car was stuck at 70 miles per hour (mph) (113km/h) immediately after the accident.

A consulting engineer for Mr James said this could not be taken as a definitive recording of the speed the car was travelling at, as it is possible that on impact with the transport box the car’s front wheels may have left the road, causing them to rotate faster and show an increased speed.

The engineer said given the level of damage to the vehicles it is likely Mr James’ car was travelling between 60mph and 70mph.


Another focal point of the case was how well lit up Mr Wilson’s tractor was.

Evidence was given by a road user who had encountered Mr Wilson’s tractor 2.8km further back the road on the morning of the accident. The witness also provided dashcam footage.

The road user said he was travelling at 50mph and saw the rear red lights of the tractor. Having overtaken the tractor, he said the headlights were on, but there was no flashing yellow beacon.

The witness accepted him seeing the tractor was aided by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. He confirmed the tractor had been travelling at a slow speed.

In his ruling, Justice Barr said that while Mr James was travelling too fast for the circumstances on that stretch of road, the court cannot find he was above the speed limit.

He also noted that Mr Wilson driving an old model tractor was a factor in the case. He said the tractor’s lights would not have the same brightness or intensity as a modern tractor.

Justice Barr said under the Road Traffic Regulations 2014, it is mandatory for drivers of agricultural vehicles to have a yellow beacon light when on a public road.

He said while Mr James was travelling too fast for the conditions, the majority of liability in the case rests with Mr Wilson.

“To drive a large vehicle, such as a tractor, on the highway in the hours of darkness without illuminating the yellow beacon was highly negligent. This was exacerbated by the fact that the defendant was driving a 1965 model tractor,” Justice Barr said.

He found Mr Wilson 75% responsible for the accident and Mr James guilty of 25% contributory negligence.


As a result of the accident, Mr James suffered a fracture to his sternum with a haematoma over it, a fracture to his left hand and fractures to three vertebrae.

Mr James said he continues to have pain in his back, his hand remains sore on occasion and he cannot grip things tightly.

He said he doesn’t feel he would be capable of his pre-accident employment, which involved lifting heavy containers of fruit and vegetables into and out of a van.

At the time of the case being heard, he had not been employed since the accident, but had recently been accepted to a return-to-work scheme. He intends to work as a self-employed spray painter.

It was also noted in the ruling that Mr James suffered significant psychological trauma as a result of the accident.

Justice Barr awarded damages for pain and suffering and disablement to date of €90,000 and €40,000 for damages into the future, as well as €30,000 for loss of employment opportunities.

The court is awaiting further submissions to determine the appropriate amount that should be given for loss of earnings to date.