Range rover driver Vincent Friel was convicted last week for causing death by dangerous driving. His solicitors failed to prove that he had fainted at the wheel. He was jailed for 3 years as a result of his 4×4 vehicle colliding with two women crossing on a pedestrian crossing in Glasgow in 2014. One of the pedestrians died and the other was severely injured.
The legal defence of automatism can apply where an individual undertakes behaviour without conscious self-control or self-censorship. This commonly features where medical conditions such as schizophrenia or epilepsy can be proven to be the reason for an act or ommision. Mr Friel attempted to prove that the medication he was taking at the time of the accident caused his blood pressure to drop and him to faint. The jury deciding the case found that that the medical evidence, together with Mr Friel’s recollection, did not prove Mr Friel had established the defence.
Similar scenarios in Scottish courts in recent years have seen individuals not being prosecuted when the collision with vehicles they were driving caused injury and death. William Payne’s 4 x 4 vehicle caused the death of 2 college students in 2010. He blacked out at the wheel and the vehicle mounted the pavement. The Fatal Accident Enquiry (FAI- Scottish equivalent of an inquest) heard that he had suffered 6 blackouts two years previously. Mr Payne was not prosecuted. Recently, the victims of the families called for a private prosecution in a similar manner to the devastating Glasgow bin lorry crash.
There a private prosecution has been sought after it was decided not to prosecute Mr Harry Clark, driver of the bin lorry. The FAI heard he had a history of blacking out in a previous job. Those currently seeking a private prosecution argue that had the existing condition been disclosed to employers and the DVLA, the driver would not have been behind the wheel and the accident may have been averted.
While these cases have been considered under the ambit of Scottish criminal law, as personal injury specialists, the law of the road is hugely important to us and our clients. While civil claims for damages do not rest on criminal convictions, they can often be connected- it is important to know that a claim for personal injury and damages does not depend on a criminal conviction but it will likely strengthen a claim.
We are following developments closely on these cases, even in the last few days it appears Mr Friel’s conviction will be appealed. The bin lorry prosecution has been granted legal aid and may proceed further. Keep following our blog and social media feed on Twitter for more updates.