Liability ruling brings promise of justice for family

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Liability ruling brings promise of justice for family

6th April 2011

A ruling at the Royal Courts of Justice will help secure justice for a man who sustained serious brain injuries when he was knocked down while walking across a road.

Lisa Fountain, an associate with Fentons Solicitors LLP, welcomed the ruling by His Honour Judge Gary Burrell QC, saying that it now paved the way for the young victim and his family to successfully pursue their claim for compensation.

"My client James Sedge was left with brain damage after sustaining extremely serious injuries when he was hit by the car being driven by the defendant in June 2006," said Lisa, who worked on the case with another associate at the firm, Richard Crabtree. "Despite the evidence and statements we had secured, the defendant's solicitors still refused to accept liability for the incident and injuries James suffered and we were forced to take the issue to the High Court."

Mrs Fountain said Mr Sedge, who was 21 at the time, was crossing High Street in Sheerness when the vehicle being driven by the defendant struck him, knocking him to the ground and into a concrete bollard. "The injuries were so severe that they have left James needing 24 hour care," said Mrs Fountain. "In order to secure James - who is now 25 - and his family the funds needed to help provide the ongoing care, treatment and rehabilitation he will need, we set out to establish that the driver was driving too fast for the conditions," she said. "We believe that had he been driving more slowly, he would have been able to take evasive action and perhaps the injuries to James might have been less severe, or indeed even avoided altogether."

After hearing evidence from a number of witnesses, including two police officers who were in the vicinity of the incident handling an unrelated matter, His Honour Judge Burrell ruled in favour of Lisa's client, asserting that the driver was 75% liable for the injuries sustained by Mr Sedge.

In a written judgment, Judge Burrell said: "The area where the claimant was struck...was part of a traffic calming area specifically designed to slow motorists down, obviously because of the pedestrian/motor car mixed use."

"It was, in my judgment, incumbent upon the prudent driver, driving down this bollarded corridor, to drive at such a speed as would allow him to stop safely should anyone step out in front of him.

"lt follows that l find the defendant to have been negligent in failing to drive at 10 mph or less and in failing to keep a proper lookout ahead, so as to see the claimant to his left, walking as though he might cross the road and in failing to sound his horn."

"I am satisfied that the reasonable driver driving at 10 mph, on entering the bollarded corridor and on seeing and watching the claimant as a potential 'stepper out' would have avoided collision altogether."

In relation to the speed and direction of both Mr Sedge and the vehicle that struck him, Judge Burrell explained that he was mindful the use of 'guesstimates' as secure findings of fact could easily lead to an unjust result either way, and that there is a danger of doing injustice if judges make unwarranted precise findings of fact.

"However, even with the imprecision I have referred to, my judgment is that the reasonably careful driver would have been likely to avoid collision completely if he had been proceeding down the bollarded mixed use road at a speed no greater than 10 mph, and was aware of the claimant ahead of him and to his nearside as a potential stepping out hazard."

"If l am wrong about that, then I am satisfied the impact would have been only slight, and the claimant would have been struck more from the front of the vehicle (i.e. he would have had time to move further out in front of the vehicle) so that on balance of probability there would have been no projection of the body to the side into a bollard and thus no serious head injury."

"There is little doubt but that the claimant simply did not look behind him/to his right so as to look down the road towards the Millennium Way junction. It is not seriously in dispute on behalf of the claimant that had he done so, he would have seen the defendant approaching. He stepped out therefore oblivious as to whether there was a car coming or not. There must therefore be an assessment by way of contributory negligence.

"On my findings, the defendant struck the claimant in this mixed use area in a large powerful vehicle travelling at around 30 mph. He had previously been travelling faster. This was an area designed for traffic calming measures specifically to encourage drivers to drive slowly. He did not sound his horn and he was not keeping a proper lookout ahead. He simply failed to see the claimant walking ahead near the roadway.

"The layout of the road with the pedestrian priority area sign was such that a pedestrian could well take the (erroneous) view that he had some kind of priority. The claimant was walking slowly.

"l assess the contributory negligence element at 25% and thus hold the defendant to be 75% responsible for the accident and the claimant's injuries."

Speaking after the ruling, Mrs Fountain said the family was delighted with the outcome of the liability trial. "James' mother is understandably pleased that this ruling will finally help to achieve justice for James and their family, almost five years after he was so seriously injured in this incident," she said.

"The injuries he sustained on that night have changed his life, and the lives of his family, forever. Following this ruling, it is now hoped that an appropriate settlement can be reached which takes into account James' lost prospective earnings as well as the huge expenses - such as medical bills and case management costs - he will likely incur over the coming years.

"While no amount of money can make up for what my client has lost, we hope that he and his family will soon be able to begin to move on with their lives, safe in the knowledge that they do not need to worry about paying for James' own future care and treatment."

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of serious head and brain injuries.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.