A young mum who fractured her neck and back when she swerved off the road to avoid three stolen construction lorries has changed the law after winning her five year battle for justice.
Charli Lewington, 31, hit a tree and crashed into a shed when she took evasive action to avoid crashing into three stolen earth movers.
When people are injured by uninsured motorists the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) normally offer victims a financial settlement to aid in their rehabilitation.
But because the MIB categorised these trucks as ‘off road vehicles’ the MIB refused to pay a penny. Thousands of innocent drivers who suffered life changing injuries through no fault of their own have failed to get compensation for their injuries because of this legal loophole.
Charli, from Enfield, North London, who has been left with limited use of her left arm and is in constant pain, battled for five years and eight months, ending her legal fight in the Royal Courts of Justice last month.
Justice Bryan’s ruling at the High Court effectively changes the law and means that all ‘off road vehicles’ including construction site vehicles, plant machinery, trail bikes and dirt bikes will have to be insured if they go onto a road.
Crucially, it also means that innocent victims injured or killed by uninsured off road vehicles can now claim compensation.
Charli said: “I was driving down the A120 in Essex following my uncle. It was late at night and pitch black. He swerved but I couldn’t see what he was trying to avoid but slowed down. At the last minute I saw the unlit tipper trucks and swerved to avoid them but lost control of my car. I zig zagged backwards and forwards and went onto a grass verge, bounced off a tree and crashed into somebody’s shed.
“It was absolutely terrifying and I remember screaming that we were going to crash. I can’t remember the impact or pieces of wooden fence coming through my windscreen. I remember trying to move but I was trapped in the car. I was with a friend who went off to get help. I couldn’t move my left arm and it was excruciatingly painful. I felt underneath my arm and it was all hot and sticky. It was petrifying as I could feel the inside of my arm. I was trying desperately to stop the bleeding but it was so slippery that I couldn’t keep my hand on it for very long.”
Charli was cut out of the car and taken to hospital where they told her she had fractured her neck in three places, her back in two, broken two ribs and shattered her left elbow. She had also severed an artery in her left arm, leaving her unable to use it.
Charli said she was stunned when she had to fight for justice as she assumed she would be protected because she was an innocent party in the accident and had been left with life changing injuries.
“By winning my case I have been told that they are retracting the section of the law that meant I was unable to claim compensation for the past five years and eight months,” she said. “I did nothing wrong – I don’t drink or do drugs and I wasn’t speeding, my car was in good working order and I had insurance yet I was made to feel like I had done something wrong. I was made to fight for almost six years because of a legal loophole. You think, when you are an innocent person who has been the victim of other people’s actions you will be protected by the law somehow. It is natural to assume that when you have done nothing wrong. My passenger and friend at the time then claimed against me.
“I went through all of that and think you’re going to be protected in some way and then the MIB came along and say I’m not eligible for compensation for my injuries. I thought why should I get insurance if somebody uninsured drives into me and I’m not even protected?”
Charli said the hardest thing was not being able to do activities she used to do with her son.
She said: “My son wouldn’t come to me for six months as he was scared of hurting my arms. I was in hospital for 12 days and on the fifth day my son came in and said: ‘That’s not my mummy.’ We had to say I was wearing a silly costume and he said: ‘I don’t like it, it’s not my mum’ and that broke my heart.
“I just try to get on with it but I get frustrated as I can’t do half the stuff I used to do with my son. That is the hardest thing I have had to deal with. I can’t get involved at play groups or go on rides as my back just can’t handle it. I feel worse for him as I used to be the type of mum who would go to soft play centres and go down slides with him but now I’m the mum who sits there and drinks tea.
“I feel like I have gone from being an independent 25-year-old woman living with her son to being a dependant again, having my mum bath me, wash my hair and help put my clothes on. You take all of these things for granted but even now I struggle to do a zip up and everyday things like cooking and ironing.
“When we won the case I was so relieved as it went to show that doing things properly does have its plus sides. It also made me feel better knowing that the MIB can’t do this to somebody else and others won’t have to come up against the same brick walls we did.
“I would also like to add that my barrister Andrew Ritchie QC has been amazing in supporting and fighting to win my case. I was fortunate enough for him to take my case on. Not many are afforded that luxury or opportunity, but now with the law changing they won’t have to.”
Jennifer Maloney, a specialist serious injury lawyer from Slater and Gordon, which represents Ms Lewington said: “When our client swerved off the road and crashed, through no fault of her own, her life was changed forever. She is unable to do the things she used to with her son and is in constant pain. Yet because of a legal loophole she, like many people before her, was refused a financial settlement to aid in her rehabilitation. We are delighted that we have been able to help Ms Lewington get justice and change the law so victims in the future will not have to suffer like she has.”
Andrew Ritchie QC, from 9 Gough Square, who represented Ms Lewington in court said: “This judgment eradicates erroneous and unfair defence. For decades the MIB has been refusing compensation where off road vehicles have injured members of the public. That defence has been made pretty much extinct. This judgment deals with dumper trucks but covers trail bikes, scramblers, building site work equipment. Any plant and machinery with wheels and an engine. Well done Charli.”