Insurer tries to defend head on collision with motorcyclist based on automatism

Robert was involved in a head on collision whilst riding his motorcycle on Glasgow Road, Kirkintilloch in May 2019 when a car travelling in the opposite direction suddenly veered into his path. Robert sustained serious, life-altering injuries, including a de-gloving injury to his right thigh and a fracture to his left knee and right foot.

After meeting with Robert and receiving his instructions to pursue a claim for personal injury, we intimated a claim on his behalf to the insurers of the at-fault driver. The insurers were not prepared to accept liability on behalf of their driver. Their denial of liability was based on the defence of automatism.

Automatism as a defence is used by third party insurance companies in civil law cases to absolve them of liability in situations where the otherwise at-fault driver was deemed to be in an unconscious state at the time of the collision.

In Robert’s case, the insurers claimed that the driver had suffered from an episode of bradycardia, i.e. a drop in his heart rate and this had caused him to lose consciousness, lose control of his vehicle and subsequently veer into the opposing lane.

Our investigations into the collision revealed evidence from two independent witnesses. They had been travelling behind the driver in the lead up to the collision and they’d witnessed him driving erratically for short periods, followed by him driving correctly, managing bends and reducing his speed in line with the limits. This evidence suggested that the driver’s illness had been gradual and he’d had ample opportunity to bring his vehicle to a controlled stop before losing consciousness and causing the collision.

Confident with our evidence, we pushed on and raised a Court action for damages against the insurers of the driver.

The insurers maintained their defence of automatism before finally agreeing to make Robert a significant award of compensation just a few weeks before the Court case was due to be heard before a Judge. Following hard work and a long, anxious wait, we achieved the desired result and secured Robert the compensation he deserved.

The time, effort and costs spent on this case leave us wondering in whose interest does the defence of automatism serve to protect, when insurance companies are paid to cover the risks of such eventualities and the injured party is left without compensation.

We categorically believe that those who have been injured through no fault of their own, like Robert, should be able to obtain compensation for their injuries to give them the best chance of recovery and to lead as comfortable a life as possible. The fundamental concept of insurance means that compensation should be awarded whether or not the driver was suffering from an illness and the defence of automatism has no place in civil law in an action for personal injury.


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