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High Court Apportions Responsibility for Catastrophic Motorway Crash

Where orderly lines of motorway traffic descend into chaos in not much more than the blink of an eye, it can be very hard to discern where responsibility for an accident lies. However, as one case showed, judges are well up to the task.

The case concerned a boy who was aged four and was a child-seat passenger in an Audi driven by his mother when it was involved in a catastrophic motorway collision. After one of the car's rear tyres punctured, she steered it onto the hard shoulder. She then lost control, however, and the vehicle veered back onto the motorway where it ended up at a perpendicular angle to oncoming traffic. The boy sustained very severe injuries when the Audi was struck by a passing VW.

After a personal injury claim was launched on the boy's behalf, the High Court found that the mother was negligent in taking too sharp a turn towards the hard shoulder. Keen to reach safety, the suddenness of her manoeuvre resulted in the rear of the Audi fishtailing and a complete loss of control. Although she fought with the wheel, she could not prevent the car from re-entering the carriageway.

The Court, however, went on to rule that the VW driver bore the lion's share – 60 per cent – of responsibility for the accident. Although he slowed down, he made an error of judgment in assuming that the Audi would come to rest on the hard shoulder even though it was out of control. Had his foot been covering his brake pedal, he would have had time to stop before the collision occurred.

The ruling provided the basis for apportioning payment of the boy's compensation between the two drivers' motor insurers. If not agreed, the amount of his award will be assessed at a further hearing. The Court agreed that he should in the meantime receive a £50,000 interim payment of damages.

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