It is a popular misconception that road accident victims have to be entirely blameless in order to win compensation. That is most certainly not so, as was shown by one case in which an injured police officer won the right to substantial damages.
The officer was in a marked police vehicle that was stationary by the side of the road when it was struck head on by a passing motorist. Her injuries were severe enough to force her early retirement from the police force and, four years after the accident, she remains stricken by pervasive fatigue and widespread joint pain.
After she launched proceedings against the motorist who crashed into her, the High Court found that the officer was 30 per cent responsible for the accident. When switching off her vehicle's headlights in order to avoid dazzling other drivers, she had also mistakenly extinguished its side lights. Had they been illuminated, the driver might well have been alerted at an earlier point to the presence of the police car in front of him.
However, in ruling that the motorist bore the lion's share – 70 per cent – of the blame for what happened, the Court found that he had applied emergency braking far too late, with the result that his car skidded in a straight line into collision with the police vehicle. The primary cause of the accident was the motorist's lack of attention, or excessive speed, or a combination of the two.
The amount of the officer's compensation remains to be assessed but, given the severity of her injuries and the accident's impact on her career, the award is bound to be substantial, even after a 30 per cent reduction.