Landmark ruling for road accident victims

The High Court has allowed a 17-year-old to claim against the Department of Transport (DoT) for a road traffic accident for which the driver responsible could not be traced.

The new ruling means that hundreds of victims of accidents caused by drivers who are unable to be traced will now be able to visit solicitors safe in the knowledge that their claims will not simply be thrown out of court.

Mr Justice Faux said that the DoT had displayed an "inexcusable lack of thoroughness" in failing to transpose the 1987 European Union directive into laws applicable in Britain and Northern Ireland. Proper implementation would have ensured that people injured by either uninsured or untraceable motorists would have the same rights as others to claim compensation.

Ben Byrne, aged 17, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident in 1993, when he was aged just three.

Although compensation claims against untraceable or uninsured drivers are supposed to go through the Motor Insurer's Bureau (MIB), Mr Byrnes's parents had not been aware that such a service existed at the time. As soon as they became aware of the body in 2001, they lodged an appeal, but it was rejected on the grounds that it had been too long after the original incident.

Mr Nicholas Paines, Mr Byrne's QC argued that if the victim had been a minor trying to claim compensation against a traceable motorist, he would have been eligible to lodge his complaint at any time before he turned 21. The High Court accepted that in this light the MIB scheme treated victims of untraceable or uninsured drivers "less favourably" than other accident victims and therefore allowed the compensation claim against the DoT to proceed.

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