Ban on Compensating Injured Criminals Analysed by High Court

It is a long-established principle of law that those who are injured in the course of their own criminal acts are not entitled to compensation. The rule came under High Court analysis in one case in which a severely injured accident victim was accused of being engaged in a drug dealing expedition when he came to grief.

The man was a rear-seat passenger in a car that crashed head-on into a taxi. Police officers had tried to get the vehicle to stop after it shot a red light but it accelerated away on the wrong side of the road. Another passenger died in the ensuing collision and the driver was subsequently convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment.

The man suffered severe head injuries and his lawyers sued the driver and his motor insurers. His claim had been valued at several million pounds. The insurers initially conceded primary liability for the accident. However, they subsequently sought to argue that the man and the driver were both drug dealers who were engaged in a joint criminal enterprise at the time of the accident. As a matter of public policy, it was submitted that the man’s claim could not succeed.

Small amounts of cannabis and drugs paraphernalia were said to have been found in the crashed car, along with a lock-knife and more than £200 in cash, but the man’s lawyers argued that that evidence did not come close to establishing that he was involved in drug dealing or any other illegal activity.

In granting the insurers permission to withdraw their admission, however, the Court found that they had raised a real issue to be tried. The prospect of their arguments succeeding was realistic, without in any way being guaranteed, and justice required that they be given the opportunity to put forward a full defence at trial.