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Serious injuries as a result of a road traffic accident – Is the Defence of automatism a valid Defence?
The Claimants, who were Spanish Nationals visiting the UK on holiday, were passengers in a vehicle being driven by their nephew in Oxfordshire.
The Defendant was driving a vehicle in the opposite direction. Suddenly, she crossed onto the carriageway of the Claimant’s vehicle, causing it to swerve to its offside to avoid a collision, but the Defendant then moved back into her carriageway causing a head-on collision between the vehicles. As a result of the collision, the Claimants were seriously injured.
The Defence of “Automatism” in road traffic accident claims
When the claim was submitted, the Defendant’s insurance company refused to settle the claim as they argued that the driver was not at fault for the accident.
They argued a rarely seen legal defence known as “automatism.” This arises where a person experiences a total loss of control through no fault of their own.
Examples of what might constitute an automatism defence include a hypoglycaemic attack, heart attack or a sudden stroke or seizure which prevents the driver from being able to control their vehicle. If such an event occurs, it is argued that the driver is not to blame for their sudden medical condition which then resulted in the accident.
Currently there is no scheme in the UK to compensate victims of genuine automatism and so a person injured through absolutely no fault of their own or the fault of the other party, has no recourse whatsoever to compensation for what are often very serious injuries. This is because the law requires the driver who caused the accident to be at fault.
In these cases, it is important to examine in detail the events leading to the collision as well as the driver’s past medical history, amongst other things.
The Defendant’s insurance company obtained the Defendant’s medical records and there was nothing to support her allegation of automatism. Nevertheless, a settlement could still not be agreed.
Having obtained the necessary updated medical evidence, proceedings were issued and shortly after, liability was finally admitted. This case illustrates the tactics of insurers who will often look for reasons for not agreeing settlement but with tenacity, their arguments are frequently defeated.
The defence of Automatism is quite rare. We recall 2 other occasions when that defence was run in cases we were involved. In one case the defence succeeded, when a coach driver did genuinely have a heart attack at the wheel of his car. One of the passengers was a doctor who was able to say that he had a heart attack.
In another case, something similar happened but the driver, who in that case actually died of a heart attack at the wheel, had been seen slumped over his wheel in a layby a mile from the collision. The obvious inference was that he had felt unwell and stopped, but then decided to continue his journey.
The Highway Code is clear – if you feel unwell you should not get behind the wheel. In the case of the coach driver, he had no history of health problems and there was no evidence that he actually felt unwell at the time.
Although the defence of Automatism is not often seen, it does need careful consideration of all the evidence including medical evidence of the driver allegedly taken ill before the Defence can be accepted.
Accident compensation claims
Seeking the expert advice of a specialist road collision lawyer can be crucial in ensuring that your claim goes smoothly and that you get the support you need to recover from your injuries.
You can trust in the experience and knowledge of our team of professional injury lawyers to ensure that you receive the maximum amount of compensation that you are entitled to.