The Penningtons Manches travel team has recovered substantial interim payments for a client who sustained a severe head injury in a multi-vehicle collision in France in October 2015. The accident was caused by a lorry driver whilst he was sending multiple instant messages on his mobile phone and driving at an excessive speed.
Mark Lee and his team continue to represent the Lawas family, who were all injured in the accident. The impact caused catastrophic injuries to Sylvester “John” Lawas, who was aged 15 at the time of the accident and a front seat passenger in the vehicle.
Following his discharge from The Children’s Trust Centre for Brain Injury in September 2016, John has been living with his family and a care team, in an adapted home in Tadworth. He also attends the Woodlands School, which provides specialist education for children with severe brain injuries.
The travel team continues to liaise closely with John’s case manager and the appointed Court of Protection deputy to ensure that all of his needs are met. The substantial interim payments already received from the French insurer, AXA, are being used to fund the cost of John’s 24-hour care team and other expenses associated with his therapies, treatment, equipment and accommodation.
The legal team is also instructing numerous medicolegal experts, for each of the family members injured in the accident and obtaining a report from an architect to clarify John’s long term accommodation needs.
In September of last year Mr Lawas also attended the criminal hearing in France to determine the sentence against the driver. The driver pleaded guilty and was given a five month suspension on his licence and an eight months suspended custodial sentence (that will only be effective if he re-offends in the next five years). He was also given a fine for a sum of 500 euros.
Mark Lee, a partner at Penningtons Manches, shares the family’s dismay and disappointment at the ruling handed down by the French criminal court: “According to the police report the driver of the lorry sent 16 instant messages via facebook whilst he was driving. He was also driving at a speed of 89km/hour on a stretch of road that had been cordoned off to one lane and was subject to a 70km/h limit. His reckless behaviour caused catastrophic and life changing injuries to John Lawas and his family and injured 18 people in total.
“Given this background it beggars belief that the court saw fit to give such a lenient sentence. At the very least the driver should have been given a custodial sentence and a lengthy ban from driving. He and his employer should also have been ordered to pay a substantial fine. European Courts need to adopt a much harder line with drivers who use their mobile phones, especially when they are at the wheel of an articulated truck. Courts should also be encouraged to hand down hefty fines against employers should an employee cause an accident whilst using a mobile phone. This should help to introduce a change in behaviour. We need to get to a point where driving with a mobile phone is considered as socially unacceptable as driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The effects are equally devastating."