In many road traffic cases, there is often a dispute over who is responsible for the accident. Each party usually has their own reasons why they believe the other person was to blame. If there are independent witnesses who are able to provide clear evidence or a useful police report this can be very helpful to the case.
But there will be times when these are not available and despite accident investigation reconstructions and engineers’ reports as to the damage sustained to the vehicles, it is still not clear who is to blame for the accident. In these types of scenarios, often insurers and some solicitors may suggest that claimants accept a split liability agreement.
This may be in the form of a 50:50 liability split, which means the claimant agrees to accept 50% of the responsibility for the accident and therefore is only able to recover 50% of the damages to which they would be entitled if the accident were established to be wholly the other party’s fault. A split liability agreement can be agreed in many different ways for e.g. on a 90:10 split liability basis, 80:20 or 75:25, as the split will be negotiated by the parties involved in the case.
It is always a very important decision whether or not to accept a split liability offer or agreement. I have recently dealt with several cases where my clients have been strongly against the idea of accepting split liability, which proved to be a good decision for their cases.
In one particular case, my client was cycling along a road close to the kerb, when a driver turned left into a side road just in front of her without indicating, which caused her to collide with his vehicle. My client hit the car and then fell onto her left shoulder sustaining a brachial plexus injury which required 2 surgical procedures and extensive physiotherapy to remedy her symptoms. She was off work for some time and had difficulty with her personal care and household chores for many months. She was a keen cyclist and enjoyed cycling to keep fit and was unable to return to cycling after her accident.
My client was adamant that she was not to blame for the accident, as she believed the driver had decided at the last minute to turn into a side road and had not put on his indicator in sufficient time. Unfortunately, there were no independent witnesses and the police report was not useful in confirming her account of the accident events. Despite this I believed my client had a strong case, taking into account the injury she sustained and the extent of the damage found on the vehicle, so court proceedings were issued against the driver. I also received supportive advice from an independent barrister, who was prepared to represent the claimant at trial. As the court proceedings progressed, the insurers continued to emphatically deny liability. However, after some time, their solicitors made an offer to settle my client’s claim for the sum of £27,000.
My client happily accepted this offer and was very pleased that she had not made any split liability agreements with the insurers, as she then would not have been entitled to receive the full amount of £27,000.
Whilst each particular case will rest on its own specific accident circumstances, it is very important for those injured in road traffic accidents to obtain advice from specialist personal injury lawyers who are prepared to fight on their behalf, for a good outcome on liability. It is important to obtain strong detailed evidence including accident investigation reports to determine, whether a split liability agreement should be made.
At an early stage of a claim, when the full extent of the injuries are unknown, if possible it may be better to delay making a split liability agreement until it is apparent how much the claim will be worth and at that stage it may be easier for a specialist personal injury lawyer to negotiate a reasonable settlement on both liability and quantum.
Of course, there will be cases where agreeing on split liability will be vital to ensure that the injured road user receives any damages at all, but it must be carefully considered so as to ensure that clients achieve the best possible outcome. Having backing from a strong legal team and expert evidence will ensure that accident victims do not concede too readily to split liability agreements which are not in their best interests.