'Drug dealer' wins payout ruling
A "drug dealer" travelling with a stash of cannabis who was seriously injured in a road accident is entitled to compensation from the Government, the High Court has ruled.
Sean Delaney had to be cut from the wreckage of the Mercedes being driven by acquaintance Shane Pickett after the head-on collision near Nuneaton in November 2006.
Members of the emergency services found a bag containing 240 grams of cannabis under the front of Delaney's jacket and a smaller quantity in Pickett's sock.
Criminal proceedings were successfully brought against Pickett in relation to his dangerous driving and the possession of cannabis but the police never interviewed or charged Delaney, probably because of the severity of his injuries and traumatic amnesia, said Mr Justice Jay in London.
Delaney's bid to obtain compensation from Pickett's insurers failed because of an exclusion clause although the Court of Appeal said that the claim was not barred on grounds of public policy as criminality was only the occasion, and not the cause, of the accident.
Delaney then launched a damages action against the Secretary of State for Transport, on the basis that the exclusion under a clause of the Uninsured Drivers' Agreement 1999 was incompatible with relevant EU directives.
Ruling in favour of Delaney today on the issue of liability, the judge said that the law was clear and the minister was in serious breach of it.
He added: "Many readers may be wondering how it comes about that a drug dealer is entitled to compensation against Her Majesty's Government in circumstances where he was injured during the course of a criminal joint enterprise.
"The understandable reaction might be: there must be some rule of public policy, reflecting public revulsion, which bars such a claim. The short answer is that there is not.
"The Court of Appeal held in terms that the insurer's public policy defence failed on these facts, and that must be the end of that matter in terms of domestic law.
"The relevant European Directives clearly state that there are only limited exceptions to liability in these circumstances, and that too must be the end of the matter as a matter of Community law."
The amount of damages due to Delaney, who suffered life-threatening injuries and some "intellectual blunting", will be assessed at a later date.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We are disappointed with the judgment of the court despite the fact its effects will be very limited. We are looking closely at the judgment and are minded to appeal.
"Even if the judgment were to stand, claims will be excluded from compensation where serious criminality and a close connection between the crime and the accident can be shown."
Pickett, from Nuneaton, was jailed for 10 months at Warwick Crown Court and banned from driving for five years after admitting dangerous driving and possession of cannabis.
Aged 34 at the time, he was driving a Mercedes SL500 sports car when the accident happened, the Nuneaton News reported in December 2007.
As Pickett went to overtake a car, the Mercedes smashed head-on into an oncoming people carrier on a bend.
The Mercedes lifted off the ground and landed in a cottage garden, leaving Delaney with broken legs, arm and pelvis, a punctured lung and bleeding to the brain.
He spent several weeks in a coma and was unable to remember details of his wife and five children when he came round.
Delaney had no recollection of getting into the Mercedes with Pickett, who was "more an acquaintance than a friend", according to the Lexology legal website.
Pickett alleged that he thought he was not under the influence of cannabis at the time of the crash, but prosecutors said he "undoubtedly" was.
The driver of the people carrier, Peter Houston, was left with dislocated ribs and bruised kidneys, while his wife suffered a broken ankle, a broken collarbone and five broken ribs.
Their daughter and two sons were also injured, two with broken collarbones, and suffered psychological trauma.