Apportioning Blame

Category: Personal Injury

Sometimes the injured party must bear some of the blame for an incident, and the judge may adjust the compensation payout accordingly.

In the summer of 2013, Miss Okai-Koi parked her car in the car park of the Lord Kitchener pub in New Barnet to visit a Sainsbury’s supermarket across the road.  When she came back, she was met by a very angry Mrs Christine McHugh who was upset with Miss Okai-Koi for illegally parking in the pub car park.  She also said that Miss Okai-Koi had parked so close to her vehicle that she could not open her door to put in her child’s booster seat.

It was at this point that Mrs McHugh became extremely verbally aggressive towards Miss Okai-Koi, and started to kick her car.  Miss Okai-Koi then drove off, stopped at the exit to the car park and phoned the Police.  Mrs McHugh, who had been drinking heavily, thought that she was deliberately blocking their exit from the car park and jumped onto the bonnet of Miss Okai-Koi’s car.  Miss Okai-Koi panicked and drove off throwing Mrs McHugh from the bonnet of the car where she struck her head and tragically died from injuries.

Miss Okai-Koi fled the scene of the accident.

The Police caught up with Miss Okai-Koi and she was eventually charged with causing death through dangerous driving.    The Jury rejected that charge but did find her guilty of causing death through careless driving and she was sent to prison for 12 months.

She also subsequently faced disciplinary proceedings as a Nurse.

Mrs McHugh’s husband brought a civil claim for compensation against Miss Okai-Koi and her insurers.

The Claim was defended on the basis that the circumstances were so unusual that they should not amount to negligent driving, and even if Miss Okai-Koi was negligent, the law should not find her legally responsible to compensate Mr McHugh due to the late Mrs McHugh’s criminal behaviour.

The Judge did not agree with this analysis.  He felt that because a criminal court had found Miss Okai-Koi blameworthy to a criminal standard, then that must amount to a breach of duty.   He described her decision to drive off as a ‘fatal misjudgement’.  She should have waited for the Police to arrive; therefore, she was driving without due care and attention and was liable to compensate Mr McHugh for the death of his wife.

However, the Judge recognised that the main protagonist was Mrs McHugh.  He described her as ‘spoiling for a fight’.  Whilst her culpable behaviour should not deprive her of her husband’s right to damages, it did constitute the main cause of the accident and, accordingly, Mr McHugh’s claim was reduced by 75%.