A young man who was catastrophically injured in an off-road motorbike crash has won the right to a seven-figure sum in compensation – after fending off claims that he was engaged in a criminal enterprise when the accident happened.
The then 16-year-old was a pillion passenger on a motorbike that was being ridden by a friend along a narrow path when it collided head-on with another motorbike at a combined speed of about 50 miles per hour. The path was meant for pedestrians only and signs were in place banning its use by motorbikes.
The passenger suffered injuries of such severity that he will require care and assistance for the rest of his life. After proceedings were launched on his behalf against the two motorcyclists, a judge found that both of them had driven dangerously and were equally responsible for the accident.
As neither motorbike was insured, the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) – the industry body set up to compensate victims of uninsured drivers – was joined as an additional defendant. MIB lawyers argued that the passenger should be denied compensation on the basis that, at the time of the accident, he was engaged in a criminal joint enterprise with the motorcyclists to drive dangerously.
In rejecting that argument, however, the judge noted that the passenger was just an ordinary teenager, who was interested in clothes and girls, and that she had heard nothing negative about him. His mother had given palpably honest evidence that she had never seen him on a motorbike before the accident.
There was no evidence that the path had been used as a race track by local youths or that it had been the scene of deliberate or reckless thrill-seeking or risk-taking in the past. In those circumstances, the MIB had failed to establish that the passenger had intended that the motorbikes should be ridden dangerously.
Finding that the passenger was 40 per cent responsible for the accident, however, the judge noted that, although still young, he was old enough to be conscious of the general risks associated with motorbikes. Like many young men, he had given no real thought to his own safety and had paid heavily for the risk he took. He had also not been wearing a crash helmet.
The judge's ruling means that the MIB will be required to compensate the teenager on the basis of 60 per cent liability. The amount of his damages has yet to be assessed but, given the extent of his injuries and future care needs, his award is expected to run into seven figures.