An accident in the beautiful Scottish town of Lairg which occurred last year has proven to be very much reminiscent of one of the most important and noteworthy cases in English personal injury law, Kent v Griffiths (2000). That case was a seminal moment in the development of the modern law applicable to the ambulance service, and was crucial in defining the limits of liability imposed on public services and particularly operational organizations within the National Health Service.
Making a personal injury claim in Lairg and the liability of public service organizations
There were a long chain of cases in the 1990s which struggled to define the limits of liability in cases similar to the personal injury claim in Lairg. It was unsettled for a long while whether public services such as the police, ambulance and fire brigade could owe a duty of care to the public at large. The difficulty existed for two reasons:
- Firstly, the law generally expects a degree of practical proximity before liability is allowed. For instance, it is clear that a car driver is spatially close to other road users and pedestrians so that he or she owes them a duty to drive carefully, but the law is concerned also with the fact that the risk of causing the other person harm was reasonably foreseeable (i.e. predictable). It was not clear that public rescue services could practically and fairly have this level of proximity with every person within their designated range at once.
- Second, there was a concern from ‘public policy’. This is a term used by judges in a broad range of senses, but it usually means that the judges risk creating a legal situation which is contrary to the best interests of the general public – in this case by costing the public services a huge amount of money for every mistake when this money would be better spent on front line services. This is not to say that such liability is impossible in law, but that it really ought to be created by Parliament and central government, which are better placed to research and understand the potential costs of new liability and provide for it in the necessary budgets. Naturally, it also factors in that judges are not democratically elected and so might not be best placed to make such decisions.
In Kent v Griffiths, the court finally allowed a degree of liability, but this liability only existed once proper information had been communicated to the ambulance services – other emergency services have been treated a little differently by the law. In that case, the ambulance took 40 minutes – considered to be unreasonably long – to reach a woman who was having an asthma attack. In the recent injury claim in Lairg, the period of time was 45 minutes and the unfortunate injury victim was in anaphylactic shock.
However, it would be wrong to suspect that liability for the injury will be necessarily instantaneous based on the authority of Kent. The victim was located in a remote and not easily reached area of the Highlands, and this will effect what the court will determine to be a ‘reasonable delay’. The case is likely to go to the County Court later this year.
Does this personal injury claim in Lairg sound familiar?
If you need help clarifying this notoriously intricate area of law then why not contact Accident Advice Helpline for no obligation advice? Ring 0800 689 0500 now.