Low speed impacts tend to be those which occur under 16 kmh (10mph). There is often very little damage, if any, caused to either a Plaintiff’s or Defendant’s vehicle. The most common type of low speed impact claim is where a Plaintiff’s vehicle has been struck in the rear and the most common type of alleged injury is neck injuries (whiplash). From the Defendant’s perspective, if there is no doubt that an accident occurred as alleged, the most common defence is that the accident/collision occurred at such a slow speed that no injury could have occurred (a minimal impact defence). Such claims would fall into the category of opportunistic or exaggerated.
Whilst CCTV and expert evidence from motor assessors and medical professionals is important when defending these claims, the Plaintiff’s credibility is crucial and their evidence should be tested before the Court. This would include asking a Plaintiff to describe the accident and impact; when did their injuries first manifest themselves; when did they first seek medical treatment and so on. A background search of the Plaintiff to include social media searches, a review of newspaper articles as well as investigate other claims made by the Plaintiff, should be carried out.
In a recent High Court case, Mr Justice Twomey dismissed a claim for whiplash arising from an accident in which a Defendant delivery truck driver collided with the Plaintiff’s vehicle in a service area at the back of Galway Shopping Centre on the 9 November 2013. The Plaintiff alleged that the accident ruined his life because he later suffered a heart attack, depression, anxiety and nightmares. The Court heard that the Plaintiff’s vehicle had minor damage, costing just under €2,000 to repair. When initially examined by his GP the Plaintiff had stated he had a good range of movement in his neck and back. Almost 4 years later when examined by a medical expert instructed by the Defendant, the Plaintiff reported that his life had been ruined by the accident. The Judge was satisfied that the accident had occurred as alleged and awarded the Plaintiff €2,124 for the damage but dismissed the claim for personal injury adding “Claims such as this, seeking damages for alleged life changing injuries resulting from minor accidents, bring the whole system of personal injuries litigation into disrepute”.
However, even if the Court accepts that an accident occurred at a low speed, there is no guarantee a claim for personal injury will be dismissed. In June 2019, Mr Justice Keane awarded a Plaintiff €85,000 general damages for injuries sustained arising from a road traffic accident which occurred when the Defendant’s vehicle collided with the rear of the Plaintiff’s vehicle at a speed of less than 10mph. The repairs to the Plaintiff’s vehicle costs approximately €500. The Plaintiff claimed that the accident worsened her existing degenerative changes in her spine, underlying psychological vulnerability and caused damage to her teeth. Mr Justice Keane was satisfied that the Plaintiff was a sincere and truthful witness. He accepted that the Plaintiff had developed chronic pain syndrome, for which the prognosis was uncertain and awarded damages for past and future loss.
People who pursue claims for personal injury must be tested on their evidence, however, there is no guarantee that a judge will dismiss a claim if the accident occurred at a low speed. The Plaintiff’s credibility is key.