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Automatism defence used after driver passed out at wheel

A recent road traffic accident press article featured the case of a woman whose car was hit head on by an oncoming car after it drifted onto her side of the road.

It transpired that the driver, who could so easily have killed her, had lost consciousness at the wheel moments before the crash. His insurance company refused to pay out compensation as they claimed he was not at fault for the accident.

The reason given was the rarely used legal defence known as “automatism.” This is where someone cannot be held responsible for their actions if they had no knowledge of them.

It appears that the defence in this case was based upon the fact that the driver had no history of similar collapses and had no knowledge he was going to pass out.

Automatism can arise where a person experiences a total loss of control through no fault of their own. The legal defence of automatism is most commonly used in road accident claims where the consequences of a total loss of control can be disastrous and even fatal. 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 injuries.
This is undoubtedly an important and complex area of law. For example, in automatism defence cases it’s important to examine very carefully the sequence of events leading up to the road accident as well as the driver’s past medical history, amongst other things, to ensure no stone is left unturned.

The law as it stands offers no protection to the often entirely blameless victims of an automatism defence and it’s surprising this effective “get out of jail free card” is not used more frequently by unscrupulous defendants.

Surely it’s time to consider introducing a no fault compensation system in this area, as used in other countries such as New Zealand?

Slater and Gordon offer a free consultation for people injured in road traffic accidents through no fault of their own. Contact us here and we’ll be happy to help.

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