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James Arney KC, on instructions from Adrian Cottam of DAC Beachcroft for Admiral Insurance, acted on behalf of the 1st Defendant, in a head-on collision liability trial. The case was heard by Gavin Mansfield KC in the High Court over 6-days. Dispute centred on which side of the road the accident occurred. Judgment held that the Claimant had crossed into the 1st Defendant’s lane, dismissing the claim.
The claim arose out of a road traffic accident between the Claimant (Mr Scott), driving an Audi A6 and the 1st Defendant (Mr Reed), driving a BMW 118d. Mr Scott claimed the collision was caused by Mr Reed losing control of the BMW; he sued for negligence.
Conditions were poor at the time of the accident, with prolonged heavy rain leading to the road surface being wet (giving rise to the claim against the 2nd Defendant, Wiltshire Council, for inadequate drainage systems in breach of s.41 Highways Act 1980).
The collision between the Claimant and 1st Defendant occurred on a bend in the road. The Claimant’s Audi continued along the road and collided with a second vehicle heading in an easterly direction: a Ford Transit van. The Transit van was the next vehicle behind the 1st Defendant, the BMW having overtaken the van at speed shortly before the accident occurred. Tragically, one of van’s passengers was killed, others were injured. The Claimant was prosecuted for the offence of causing death by careless driving; but was acquitted at the criminal trial.
The key issue between the Claimant and the 1st Defendant was: which driver lost control of their vehicle? The parties agreed that if the collision took place on the Claimant’s side of the road then the 1st Defendant must have lost control and would be liable. Conversely, if it took place on the Defendant’s side of the road then the Claimant must have lost control and his claim would fail. No issue of contributory fault arose: the claim was all or nothing.
The Claimant by reason of the traumatic brain injury he sustained in the accident, had no recollection of the accident and the events leading up to it.
The Court heard from accident reconstruction experts, as well as drivers of all 3 vehicles involved. Reconstruction issues considered:
· The degree of rotation imparted to the BMW and the Audi from their offset frontal impact;
· The positioning and nature of the disturbances to each verge;
· Markings to the road surface; and
· Sight lines to the point of impact from the van driver witness.
Mansfield J. held on the balance of probabilities and on the evidence presented to the Court, the point of impact was on the 1st Defendant’s side of the road. Whilst the 1st Defendant had overtaken the Transit van at speed on a bend, fishtailing in the wet conditions, he returned to his lane prior to the impact with the Claimant. Given that finding, the Claimant must have crossed at speed from his own carriageway into the path of the 1st Defendant’s BMW.
Mr Scott’s claim against Mr Reed failed and was dismissed, with judgment to the 1st Defendant on his counterclaim.
The Claimant’s claim against the Council also failed.