St Albans PC set for multi-million pound payout following road accident
PUBLISHED: 07:01 27 June 2011
A POLICE constable left facing a lifetime in a wheelchair after a road smash has been cleared of any blame for his injuries, paving the way for a multi-million pound damages payout.
Cyclist Alexander Kotula, 27, of Norris Close, London Colney, was badly injured when he fell into barriers around electrical works in Park Street and was hit by a passing lorry.
He brought a claim for damages against the companies responsible for the roadworks and was last week told by a top judge that he would get 100 per cent of the assessed damages.
During the hearing, EDF Energy Networks Plc and its contractors, Morrison Utility Services Ltd and Birch Utilities Ltd, admitted their failure to maintain a pedestrian passage of one-metre width through the works meant they were in “breach of duty”.
But they argued that the damages to which Mr Kotula was entitled should be limited because his own negligence had contributed to the accident.
Judge Simon Brown ruled in favour of Mr Kotula, heaping all of the blame for his injuries on the three companies.
“The defendants were wholly responsible for this accident in laying out a very hazardous multi-layered trap of a narrow path on a curve with kerb across it,” he said.
He added: “The hazard applied to all pedestrians and was beside a very busy road, with no warnings and no safety zone between the barrier in the road and passing lorries.”
During the trial, the three companies claimed that Mr Kotula was partly responsible in that he had either negligently cycled on the pavement and through the street works system or carelessly walked through it.
The judge said he considered it more likely that Mr Kotula had dismounted by the time of his fall as it would have taken an “extraordinarily skilled” cyclist to safely cycle through.
Nevertheless, the danger on that particular road, being narrow and without cycle lanes, would have meant it was a “reasonable decision” for Mr Kotula to cycle on the pavement.
And Judge Brown rejected the claim that Mr Kotula had been negligent in not using the road or the opposite pavement, which was clear of street works at the time.
He continued: “In my judgment, it is only with the benefit of cruel hindsight that it might be said that Mr Kotula should have risked danger on the road or the sanctuary of another pavement, rather than this one.
“He should certainly not be held at all responsible for electing for the wrong option when faced with such a dreadful hazard. Neither should he be criticised for momentary inadvertence, loss of balance or misjudgment whilst trying to negotiate this particular hazard.
He added: “Accordingly, the defendants’ plea of contributory negligence has not been proved and Mr Kotula does not bear any responsibility for his tragic accident.”
Lawyers will now attempt to agree on the amount of Mr Kotula’s damages payout, but will return to the court if such an agreement cannot be reached. In the meantime, he will receive a £50,000 interim payment, although, given the extent of his injuries and the devastating effect on his life, his payout is likely to amount to millions of pounds.
The court heard that Mr Kotula is currently living with his wife in “unsatisfactory” accommodation and that an application to the court for another interim payment to fund an alternative home was likely soon.