It is a principle of law that no one should be compensated for the consequences of their own criminal acts. However, in a guideline decision, the High Court awarded substantial damages to the partner of a deceased motorist – despite finding that his dangerous driving was the primary cause of the crash in which he died.
The man's partner had brought a claim for damages under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. In order to succeed, she had to show that her deceased partner would himself have been entitled to succeed in a claim for damages for negligence against the other driver.
The deceased and another driver were travelling along a dual carriageway at close to double the speed limit. Each was determined to be the first to reach a point in the road at which it narrowed into a single lane. The deceased lost control of his car, colliding with oncoming traffic and sustaining fatal injuries.
The other driver was subsequently acquitted of causing death by dangerous driving, but convicted of dangerous driving and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. However, in dismissing a claim that the partner of the deceased subsequently brought against the other driver, a judge found that both motorists had been engaged in a joint criminal activity prior to the crash.
In upholding the partner's appeal against that ruling, the Court acknowledged that both drivers were undoubtedly guilty of dangerous driving as principals. However, that did not mean that they were engaged in a criminal joint enterprise. Each of them would probably have preferred that the other slow down and give way. The deceased had therefore not encouraged the other motorist to drive dangerously and was not an accessory to the latter's offence.
Damages payable to the deceased's partner had been agreed at £215,000 on a full liability basis. However, the Court found that the deceased bore 60 per cent of the responsibility for the crash in that he had not only driven dangerously but had also failed to maintain control of his vehicle. Damages were therefore assessed at £86,000.