Yesterday’s Mail Online featured a tragic article about a couple in their 40’s who were killed when their motorbike and sidecar was crashed into by a driver who blacked out and lost control as a result of choking on a sweet.
The driver was found not guilty of causing death by careless driving on the basis of an “automatism” defence.
Automatism can arise where a person experiences a total loss of control through no fault of their own. The defence of automatism is most commonly used in cases involving driving where the consequences of a total loss of control can be disastrous and even fatal, as in this case. Examples of what might constitute an automatism defence include an epileptic fit and a hypoglycaemic attack.
Currently there is no scheme in the UK to compensate victims of genuine automatism and so a person injured through absolutely no fault of their own has no recourse whatsoever to compensation for what are often very serious personal injuries.
This is undoubtedly an important and complex area. A number of the follow-up comments that have been posted on the Mail Online appear to suggest that the driver ought to have slowed down or pulled over when he realised that he was choking. Others call into question the circumstances as described by the driver. Certainly the fact that his car is reported to have veered across the road on two occasions suggests that he was sufficiently in control on the first occasion to have taken action to avoid or reduce the consequences of a collision.
UK law as it currently stands offers no protection to the often entirely blameless victims of an automatism defence. Surely it’s time to consider introducing a no fault compensation system in this area, as in other countries such as New Zealand?
Andrew Zajac is a Serious Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cambridge.
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