Whose fault is it anyway?

Someone must be to blame.  Surely.

Motorway pile up: death of a passenger.   Meat-cutting saw on rampage: serious head injuries.  Forklift truck crushing driver: amputated leg.  Fatal undiagnosed pulmonary embolism.

You’re starting point is: something went badly wrong, someone must be to blame.

You’re probably right, but when you apply the legal principles things are not always black and white.  The result is that even though you may start from the assumption that someone is at fault, and that the at-fault person should pay a large amount of money, getting the money won’t be easy if you can’t prove fault.

The legal principle is that fault – usually negligence – must be proven to give the right for the person injured to be paid compensation.  If you can’t prove fault, even if injury and loss are great, no one will pay.

If you are responsible for your own injury, that’s it.   If you crashed whilst drunk, or smashed your hand with hammer because you were looking at your pet cat, not at the nail, sorry, but tough.

To succeed in a claim for damages, for compensation, you must prove someone else is at fault, and that someone else caused you avoidable injury and loss.

The four scenarios I’ve outlined are real cases, two on-going.

Out of the four, in only one did the other side accept fault.

I’ll explain.

In the motorway pile up, it was dark, and wet, and no one wants to blame anyone other than an unidentified driver who left the scene.  The details of this collision are still being examined.  There appear to be potentially 3 drivers, possibly all responsible: a motorcyclist who lacked the experience to manage a wet motorway, an SUV driver who thought the M1 was Silverstone, and the driver of our passenger’s car.    Sometimes, the facts resist a clear explanation.  We’re still fighting this case.

In the meat-cutting saw case, the company fired the injured person saying it was his fault, not theirs.    Some businesses, some very large businesses, use disciplinary procedures as a way of deflecting blame onto their workers.  This assumes their health and safety systems are robust.  Experience tends to show otherwise.  We’re fighting this case.

In the forklift truck case, the business said he wasn’t employed by them, so they didn’t owe him anything.  In essence, they said he was doing his own thing, so it was all his fault, not theirs.  That was a half-truth, but also a half-lie, which slowly unravelled.  The case settled.  No formal acceptance of fault was ever made.

In the embolism case, the NHS argued the patient would have died, whether not his condition had been correctly diagnosed.   Then, all of a sudden, they held up their hands, admitted the junior doctor had not done her job properly, admitted the patient could and should have been diagnosed, and if diagnosed, would then have been successfully treated.  Inspite of this admission, wonderful for the surviving spouse and family, the evidence was on a knife-edge as to whether the patient would have survived.   The case settled.

Hence my question; whose fault is it anyway?

If there is no clear answer to this question, that is a problem for lawyers and Claimants.

Sometimes we all have to accept we don’t have the facts to reach enough certainty to prove fault.  And sometimes, surprisingly, the person we think is at fault, admits they are at fault, even when we least expect them to.