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Case Study

PI team challenges automatism defence and wins settlement for cyclist hit by driver

Dushal Mehta, Charlotte Thorpe and Counsel Shahram Sharghy of 1 Crown Office Row recently settled a difficult claim for £500,000 on behalf of a 62-year-old cyclist badly injured in a road traffic collision in a 30 mph zone in London.

The case was complicated by the defendant driver alleging he blacked out seated in his car just prior to the collision. The defence of automatism means he would not be liable for the injuries he caused because he could not be held responsible for his actions.

Read more about our cases involving automatism defence

Our client, Adam*, was cycling carefully, close to the kerb and wearing a helmet. The defendant driver hit him head-on after suddenly veering off at speed along the wrong side of the road. He then mounted the pavement and came to a halt after hitting a lamppost.

Adam was taken to St Mary's hospital in London, suffering from serious orthopaedic and head injuries, including a brain injury, fractures to his spine, femur, ribs and tibia. He spent six weeks in intensive care and a total of four months in hospital. His last memory was getting onto his bike and then waking up in hospital six weeks later. He runs of the risk of needing further surgery and possible risk of amputation in the future.

Because the driver's insurer continued to firmly deny liability, the case was listed for liability only trial. Previously, they made a settlement offer of just under £80,000 which, because of the extent of Adam's injuries, was declined.

The driver claimed he had no warning he was about to lose consciousness and had not previously felt unwell. He claimed he suffered from vasovagal syncope, whereby stressful triggers cause someone to faint because of a sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate. Expert evidence was obtained from both a cardiologist and neurologist as to the likelihood that the driver's account was true.

Our experts found no evidence to support this argument, either from medical records or their assessment of the driver. Nothing similar had ever happened to him before, nor did he have a history of cardiac or neurological related issues, making it highly unusual he would suddenly black out without any proceeding illness or symptoms. We therefore argued there was no medical explanation for what he claimed had happened.

Clearly, the case depended on the medical evidence from both sides, with a huge emphasis on the claimant's evidence as we proceeded to a settlement meeting ahead of liability trial. Although we found holes in the lay witness evidence and the driver's account of what happened on the day of the accident, we were aware the trial judge may accept the defendant's account that he blacked out. If this were the case, there would be no likelihood of appeal.

However, at a joint settlement meeting less than two months before trial, we were able to settle the case on Adam's behalf.

The damages recovered for Adam, who lives alone, will allow him to access the care and support he needs every day at home and will fund any future private care and assistance he might need. He was also compensated for the horrific injuries he sustained.

At conclusion, Dushal said: 'Adam was determined throughout the case to obtain recognition and justice for what he had been through. He is a very principled man and wanted to see the right outcome. He did not complain once about the situation he found himself in through no fault of his own and that is testament to his character.

'Adam was extremely grateful to his legal team for supporting him throughout what was a difficult and challenging case.'

*name changed

For further information about cycling accident claims and road traffic accident claims, please call Dushal Mehta on 0330 460 6751 or email dushal.mehta@fieldfisher.com.

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