Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A Poor Decision by Churchill

Last week Churchill, the insurance giant, was in the news - and not because it had announced a new series of benign ads featuring a cuddly dog and a well-known actor.

Instead, Churchill made the headlines because it has decided to appeal against a judgment by the high court.

Bethany Probert, now 16, suffered traumatic brain damage and a number of debilitating injuries when she was hit by a car one afternoon in December 2009. The young girl, who was walking home from riding stables, was hit by a driver who was travelling at 50mph along a country lane - too fast, according to the court.

The result of the accident was that Bethany was left with limited walking ability, depression and a lack of concentration or spatial awareness. She requires specialist equipment, a support worker and an open plan, single-storey home - in other words, ongoing care for the rest of her life.

Her mother would have taken some small solace from the court's judgment that Bethany was in no way guilty of contributory negligence. At least, she would have thought, there will be compensation to look after her daughter.

But not if Churchill has its way. The insurer was last week granted leave to appeal against the judgment (which would have seen Bethany paid up to £5m compensation), in what is being seen a test case to determine the extent to which children can be held responsible for their injuries in road accidents.

Churchill maintains that Bethany should have wearing a high visibility jacket as she walked along the road. In the words of a Churchill spokesperson: "While we accept that our insured was liable in part for the accident, we are appealing [against] the decision that he was entirely to blame."

Churchill's appeal can only be greeted with great dismay. Each case is, of course, dependent on its own facts, but the idea that children should be compelled to wear high-visibility jackets on country lanes, lest they are partly at fault for accidents, is ridiculous. I wish Bethany, her family and their solicitors (Richard Langton of Messrs Slater & Gordon) well in their battle against Churchill.