Mother suffers head injuries in road traffic accident

A mother of a teenage boy has been awarded a substantial amount of personal injury compensation after suffering extremely severe head injuries in a road traffic accident and proving that West Sussex County Council is partly to blame for the tragedy.

It was heard that Sarah Caroline Russell, who is 53 years of age, was driving her 15 year old son to school in March 2004 in her VW Golf when the road traffic accident occurred. However, while mum and son were travelling along the A29 near the hamlet of Warnham in Horsham, the vehicle skidded off due to a patch of ice.

Mrs Russell was lucky enough to get the vehicle back on the road again. However, she did not realise that there was an uneven verge in the road and she swerved back off the road, which then caused her to crash into a tree. She suffered severe injuries but her son was unharmed.

During the hearing at London’s High Court, it was ruled that West Sussex County Council was partly liable for the injuries sustained by Mrs Russell because it had failed to maintain the height of a roadside verge where the crash happened. The Judge Jeremy McMullen QC said: “It was plainly reasonable for the verge to be made up to the height of the road when the road height was increased in 2001. There was a duty to maintain that verge.”

During court proceedings, Mrs Russell was told by the judge that she should have taken more care whilst driving, and that she was partly to blame for the injuries she sustained, and that Mrs Russell was: “Not driving in a way which was appropriate and safe for the conditions that day.”

Her lawyers argued that the drop-off at the side of the road was so high that it made the whole situation more dangerous and contributed to the accident. Mrs Russell’s barrister, Adam Clemens, said the County Council, as highway authority, should have identified the drop-off, and corrected it. He told the judge the council did just that after the accident – building up the verge and putting in hazard marker posts – and argued that it amounted to an acknowledgement that the drop in height was a “hazard and a defect”.

If the amount of compensation Mrs Russell is to be awarded cannot be settled in the interim, a further hearing will take place. Although the amount of damages awarded to Mrs Russell, who is from Ockley, Surrey, will be reduced by 50% to take account of her own share of responsibility for the accident, her lawyers say her injuries were so severe that she will still be due a six, possibly seven, figure sum.

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