Travel team at Penningtons Manches secures favourable judgment in High Court

The travel team at Penningtons Manches has secured a favourable judgment for a British family following a High Court trial to determine who was responsible for a road traffic accident that occurred in Portugal in September 2010.

The accident occurred while Mr and Mrs Vann were on holiday in Portugal with their adult children and partners. Following an evening meal, they crossed a road to return to their car. Just before they reached the other side, Mr and Mrs Vann were struck by a vehicle driven by a Brazilian driver, which caused catastrophic injuries to them both.

Mr Vann suffered severe frontal lobe injuries and died a few days after the accident. Mrs Vann suffered severe orthopaedic injuries and an extremely serious brain injury that caused her to be in a coma for several days. After being air-lifted back to the UK, she spent nine months as an inpatient in the Neurological Rehabilitation Unit at Homerton Hospital.

Although Mrs Vann has recovered well from her orthopaedic injuries, she continues to suffer from very significant cognitive deficit and will require professional care and support for the rest of her life. She has also lost the capacity to manage her affairs and the team has therefore applied to the Court of Protection for the appointment of a deputy.

It was not only Mr and Mrs Vann that suffered as a consequence of the accident. Their two children, Alex Vann and Julia Plappert, endured the ordeal of witnessing the accident and its immediate aftermath and were later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In the early stages of the case, the defendant’s Portuguese insurer, Ocidental SA, conceded liability, although the admission was subsequently withdrawn. The insurer then maintained its denial of liability all the way to trial.

The family has always been adamant that the Brazilian driver was travelling too fast and that he was solely responsible for the accident. At trial, His Honour Mr Justice Supperstone accepted the family’s testimony and concluded that Mr and Mrs Vann did not show a lack of reasonable care for their own safety. He found that the speed of the car as it approached the restaurant was 53–64mph (with a mean speed of 58.5mph) and that the defendant was therefore driving at a speed close to, or in excess of, the local speed limit.

He concluded that the driver was travelling too fast for the conditions and that he would have been able to brake and avoid the collision entirely had he travelled at 43mph or less. He also dismissed the pleaded allegation that the family’s ability to cross the road was impaired by alcohol.

Mark Lee, the partner in charge of the travel law team, represents the Vanns’ son-in-law Nicholas Plappert, as the litigation friend of Mrs June Vann, the estate of Mr Vann and also Alex and Julia regarding their associated claims for ‘moral damages’.