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Automatism As A Defence In Personal Injury Claims

The recent local case of Green -v- Haynes has led to a reconsideration of the law relating to automatism and in particular whether it can ever be a reasonable Defence.

Automatism allows a Defendant to say that as a result of some intervening circumstances (usually medical) he was not in control of his actions at a particular time. Examples include diabetic comas or, as in this case, sudden or unexpected illness.

In Green -v- Haynes the Claimant was stationary at traffic lights approaching the A47 when the Defendant, driving a much larger and heavier vehicle, drove into the back of his vehicle causing serious injury to the Claimant. It also, in turn, pushed him into the back of the vehicle in front.

It emerged that the Defendant felt unwell whilst at a conference and decided to leave only shortly after arriving. He set off home thinking he could not get any worse but rang his wife to ask her to make an emergency appointment with his GP. It was as he drove home that the accident occurred.

The Judge found in the Claiman’s favour dismissing automatism as a Defence. He pointed out that the Defendant should not have driven when he knew how ill he was and that he knew, or ought to have known that this was likely to impair his judgement. The Judge also found that by driving, at speed, in the outside lane rather than in the slower nearside lane the Defendant ignored the opportunity to avoid a collision or to minimise the damage he was likely to cause if he had chosen the inside lane.

This article was produced on the 31st May 2016 by our Personal Injury & Group Actions team for information purposes only and should not be construed or relied upon as specific legal advice.