Criminal Intent and Personal Injury Claims

There is an established principle of law that a plaintiff or claimant is unable to pursue legal remedy if the case arises in connection with his or her own illegal act. So where someone is injured in the course of their own criminal acts, they are not entitled to compensation.

The rule was the subject of a High Court hearing in an unusual case in which a man who was severely injured in a car crash was accused of having been on a drug dealing expedition at the time of the accident.

The man was a passenger in the back of a car that crashed head-on into a taxi. Police had tried to get the car to stop after it went through a red light, but it shot off on the wrong side of the road. Another passenger died in the collision and the driver of the car was subsequently convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

The man suffered severe head injuries and lawyers acting on his behalf sued the driver and his motor insurance company.

Initially, his claim was made via the Ministry of Justice Claims Portal, which is intended for use in processing low-value claims, but it then became clear that contributory negligence was an issue and the claim was later valued at several million pounds. The insurer had initially conceded primary liability for the accident, at a time when allegations of criminal conduct were probably not known about. Subsequently, the insurer 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. It was submitted that the man's claim could not therefore succeed as a matter of public policy.

Small amounts of cannabis, drugs paraphernalia and small plastic dealer bags were said to have been found in the crashed car, along with an offensive weapon, a lock-knife, and £215 in cash in a brown envelope, but the man's lawyers argued that the evidence did not come close to establishing that he was involved in drug dealing or any other illegal activity.

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

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