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Chambers and Partners (2014)

Multi-million damages following Spanish road traffic accident

We acted on behalf of Miss Jane Edmunds following a road traffic accident in Spain in which she suffered catastrophic head injuries.

The accident happened when Miss. Edmunds was in a car travelling with her friend Mrs Amanda Simmonds. Before the accident Miss Edmunds and Mrs Simmonds had been good friends for some years. They had hired a villa in Puerto Banus near Marbella for a week. On the 10 May 1998 they flew to Malaga with Mrs Simmonds’s 18 month old son, Oliver, and the nanny. They had booked a Spanish hire car with the flight. This was picked up at the Spanish airport.

Miss Edmunds and Mrs Simmonds decided to go for a drive and visit the village of Benahavis before stopping for food and returning to the villa. They took Oliver with them. Their route back was via the MA547 to the main road leading to Marbella.

As Mrs. Simmonds’s drove, she entered a right hand bend and braked sharply. She then skidded and lost control of the car, where it crashed into a cement mixer lorry travelling in the opposite direction.

Miss Edmunds suffered a head injury of extreme severity and will require constant care for the rest of her life. She was a high earner, who will never work again.

Due to the severity of the head injuries Miss Edmunds suffered in the accident, she was not able to bring her own claim. For this reason, Miss Edmunds’s claim for damages was brought by her Mother and Litigation Friend in the English High Court.

When proceedings were issued, Mrs. Simmonds denied liability. She alleged that, when she turned into the bend the cement mixer lorry was straddling the two lanes. She said that there was no space to pass the lorry on her side of the road, so she steered to the left and then braked. Mrs. Simmonds blamed the Spanish driver of the lorry for the accident, and she issued proceedings against him, his Spanish employers, and the Spanish insurer of the lorry, Grupo Vitalicio.

On considering who was to blame for the accident, the Judge said: “It is in my judgment, abundantly clear, that having made a misjudgement of the sharpness of the corner, or of her speed or a combination of both, perhaps due to inattention while talking to the claimant, [Mrs. Simmonds] over-reacted by braking heavily, causing the skid and subsequent loss of control. I have no hesitation in finding her 100% liable for the collision”.

After dealing with who was to blame, the Court had to deal with whether English or Spanish law should apply to the claim. This was important, since English levels of damages were higher than Spanish levels of damages.

Mrs Simmonds's lawyers argued that Spanish law should apply to the claim. This was because both of the vehicles involved in the accident were Spanish, one driver was Spanish, and both insurers were Spanish.

We argued that English law should apply to the claim. This was because both Miss Edmunds and Mrs Simmonds lived in England. They were only on holiday in Spain at the time of the accident. And because the majority of Miss Edmunds’s injuries and losses became clear and were to continue in England.

The Judge agreed with our arguments. He said that the factors connecting the dispute with England “overwhelmingly” outweighed the factors which linked the dispute with Spain, and for this reason, English levels of damages should be awarded.

Not only was this case the first reported case under Private International Law [Miscellaneous Provisions] Act 1995 to have applied English levels of damages in such a way, but it also attracted a record-breaking award of damages in this country following an accident abroad.

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