Automatism defence in RTA claims 

The automatism defence has been a contested issue in personal injury claims for some time and has become a commonly used defence in road traffic accident claims. This defence refers to the state of an individual where they act without conscious awareness or control of what they were doing. Let’s explore the concept of this defence in road traffic accident claims.

When can the automatism defence arise?

The automatism defence asserts that an individual’s actions were involuntary and they were not conscious when committing the act. This means that the defendant was not in control of their actions and therefore cannot be held liable for the damages caused. The concept of automatism can arise due to various factors such as having a seizure or passing out whilst driving a vehicle. If a seizure which was beyond the control of the driver, caused an accident, they could argue that their actions were involuntary and the defence of automatism might apply.

It must be noted that if a Defendant knew or should have known prior to the accident that they had a medical condition which might impair their ability to drive, but nonetheless got behind the wheel, this will defeat a defence of automatism.  

Automatism defence case study

Moore Barlow recently acted for a claimant involved in a road traffic accident where he suffered a number of serious orthopaedic injuries. A defence of automatism was raised by the defendant’s insurers where it was argued that the defendant had a seizure behind the wheel and no history of any medical conditions which would give rise to this episode. Following thorough investigations, the defence was unsuccessful and Moore Barlow recovered compensation for the claimant.

What investigations would be done if an automatism defence is raised?

The defence of automatism is only applicable if the defendant can show that they are not in a position to control their actions properly. In this case, it is very important to review chronological sequences leading up to the accident.  

  • A full and detailed review of the defendant’s medical records will be crucial to investigations. These should be analysed to identify any entries related to medical conditions which would give rise to a medical episode. 
  • Details/report of correspondence with the DVLA. Drivers who hold a license should tell the DVLA if they have a ‘notifiable’ condition such as epilpepsy, strokes or diabetes.  Notifiable conditions are “anything that could affect your ability to drive safely”.
  • A condition report should be obtained from a medico-legal expert to comment on the defendant’s condition.

What have we learnt about the automatism defence?

A defence for automatism is a complex and controversial issue in personal injury claims. It’s application is situational and depends on various factors such as circumstances leading to the act and the defendants state of mind. 

How Moore Barlow can help

Moore Barlow have extensive experience in representing claimants for personal injury claims. If you have suffered an injury in a road traffic accident or any other kind of personal injury, including an accident at work please contact our dedicated team of personal injury solicitors.