After four long years of legal wranglings, the family of young cyclist Darren Coombs have finally won their insurance claim against Provident Insurance PLC and the car driver who knocked him down.
It was back in 1997 when Darren, then eight years old, was hit by a VW Golf on the Isle of Wight while cycling to a friend’s house and left brain-damaged. Four years on and at thirteen, Darren has a mental age of nine.
The case was brought by Mr and Mrs Coombs after the police refused to prosecute and despite Provident’s threat to counter-sue the Coombs and Valerie Cole, the childminder looking after Darren that day. Provident claimed that Darren should have been wearing a helmet and should not have been allowed out unsupervised. The company was forced to withdraw its action under a deluge of angry protests from CTC and hundreds of cyclists.
Yesterday’s liability case hinged on two conflicting eye witness statements. One, by a pedestrian, suggested that the Golf struck Darren after drifting into a bus lay-by next to a junction from which Darren cycled. The second stated that Darren had cycled onto the main carriageway into the path of the car.
The judge, Anthony Thompson QC, concluded that the pedestrian, despite police claims that her story did not “fit in” with their view of events, was “a reliable witness whose account was the most cogent.” Of the van driver, he said “his account today did not tally and was at variance with the account given in his statement after the accident.”
The judge added that it was “extremely strange that [the driver] did not see the bike before she heard the collision….and it is extremely difficult to place great reliance on her evidence that the impact was on the carriageway.”
Thompson dismissed most of the police evidence as “opinion evidence”, dismissed any suggestion of negligence on behalf of Darren’s parents and refused the defence leave to appeal. At the end of his hour long summing up, he concluded: “There was no degree of contributory negligence to attach to the young cyclist.”
Mr and Mrs Coombs, of Sandown, Isle of Wight, were both present at the one-day hearing at Winchester Crown Court. Trevor Coombs said: “I’m glad it’s all over. Now we can concentrate on looking after Darren and making sure he is financially secure for the rest of his life.”
Solicitors for the family will now seek medical reports and their compensation submission is likely to be heard next year. The amount they claim will depend on two things: the severity of Darren’s injuries as assessed by neurologists and other medical experts; and the consequences of the crash – what would have happened had the collision not taken place.
The CTC, who gave the Coombs family essential support during the legal battle were pleased with the result, director Kevin Mayne said: “We are delighted with the outcome both for Darren and his family, and for cycling. Nothing positive can be taken from a child being hurt but it was Darren’s case and the determination of cyclists to support him, that led us to set up the Cyclists’ Defence Fund. This will be used to fight just the type of adverse legal precedents Provident Insurance tried to bring about.”
Congratulations to the CTC and all the cyclists who wrote and mailed in to support them in their legal fight on behalf of Darren Coombs, and to all those who mailed Provident to express their disgust.
For more information about the CTC, joining, donating to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund and legal representation, head for www.ctc.org.uk.