Ladder Thief Denied Compensation

An alleged thief who was injured when he fell off the back of a van driven by his Uncle has lost his appeal against the dismissal of his claim for damages for the personal injuries that he sustained in the incident.

The Court of Appeal recently heard the case of Joyce v O’Brien and Tradex Insurance in which the Claimant was stood on the rear foot-plate of a van driven by his Uncle when he was thrown from the vehicle at high speed, sustaining severe injuries in the process.  Investigations suggested that the Claimant and his Uncle had been involved in the theft of a ladder, which they then placed in the load bay of the van just prior to the accident.  As the ladders were too long to fit in the vehicle the rear doors would not shut, and the Claimant stood on the rear foot-plate with the aim of steadying the ladders and holding the rear door to prevent them from falling out.

At first instance the Court had to consider whether a person who has undoubtedly been injured as a result of another person’s negligence was entitled to claim compensation for the personal injuries when the act causing the injury was part of a “joint criminal enterprise”.  That is not quite as easy to determine as you might think; after all, the Claimant in this case was injured by the negligent driving of his Uncle, not the theft of ladders, which had occurred prior to getting in to the van.  A person injured in that situation has a case which is, arguably, no different from a passenger becoming injured when his or her driver loses control by driving too fast around a bend.  Of course, standing on the back of a van and holding on to a door is extremely dangerous, but that did not cause the accident, it merely contributed to the Claimant’s injuries.  It was perfectly within the Court’s power to determine that the driver was to blame but that the Claimant’s compensation should be drastically reduced to reflect his own contributory negligence.  The Claimant was effectively saying, “Okay, I might have stolen some ladders but that didn’t cause my injuries, my Uncle’s negligent driving did”.

In a decision which flies in the face of the made-up “compensation culture” myth beloved by newspapers the Court at first instance held that a person who is injured during the course of his own criminal enterprise cannot normally be compensated.   The Court of Appeal agreed and said that the theft and the getaway were all part of the same crime and the Claimant was aware that engaging in the criminal conduct of transporting stolen ladders exposed him to a heightened risk of suffering injury.  In deciding to accept that risk he should not be compensated where that risk did actually materialise, as the injury could properly be said to have been caused by the criminal act of the claimant even if it resulted from the negligent or intentional act of another party to the illegal enterprise.

The old adage still rings true; if you cannot do the time, don’t commit the crime.

David Mayor

About David Mayor

David is Head of the Preston Office's Civil Litigation team and deals with all types of private Civil Court disputes. David’s blogs cover his expertise in all aspects of personal injury law from low value Road Traffic Accidents right through to complex large loss claims. David also writes and has a vast array of experience in Public Liability (trips and slips), Employer's Liability (accidents at work), and Motor Claims (motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents).
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