As our readers will doubtless be aware, in mid-January 2019 Prince Philip, husband to the Queen, aged 97, was involved in a serious road Traffic Accident.

From piecing together the various written and oral accounts of the accident it looks highly likely that it was the Prince’s fault. My understanding is that he pulled out of quiet side road into a busy 60mph not far from his estate. Some reports suggest that the Prince had been dazzled by the sun. What’s unclear at this stage is how his (presumably top-of-the-range, bulletproof and roadworthy) Land Rover ended up toppling over. It’s likely that he was simply struck by a fast-moving car, however, other reports suggest that his vehicle rolled into A-Road, perhaps indicating that he had lost control before the junction.

Unlucky Emma Fairweather was a passenger in her friend’s car, together with the friend’s baby. Emma sustained a fractured wrist, amongst other injuries, in the crash. Reports suggest that the friend and the baby were unharmed, but as someone who specialises in these accidents can tell you, often the physical injuries take time to present themselves and often the psychological element of the injury isn’t immediately apparent. I hope that neither driver or daughter are injured, though I would be surprised if this was the case given the obvious force of the accident.

A Daily Mirror frontpage exclusive reads: “Prince Philip hasn’t even said sorry”. This caught my eye for a number of reasons and was widely reported by other news outlets. What seems to have riled the unfortunate Ms Fairweather wasn’t the accident itself but rather the absence of an apology. Being a Director of a Personal Injury law firm I can tell you that nothing annoys an innocent injured person more than the wrongdoer not apologising for their actions. Surely it is common courtesy just to say “sorry”? And don’t Brits often apologise for things that they haven’t done? Anyone who has inadvertently bumped into a Brit will tell you is that Brit apologised even though it wasn’t their fault! Apologising for something that you haven’t done is a standard British reflex (and probably most cultures do this too).

Let’s read word for word what Ms Fairweather apparently told the Daily Mirror:

“It would mean the world to me if Prince Philip said sorry but I have no idea if he’s sorry at all. What would it have taken for him and the Queen to send me a card and a bunch of flowers?”

According to the Daily Mirror she said that she had only received a cryptic message passed on via a police family liaison officer, which said: “The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would like to be remembered.

How Ms Fairweather described the accident

“We could see the Land Rover about 150 yards from us at a junction, then it started to move,” she said. “I kept thinking he was going to stop but he didn’t … My friend was braking and seemed so in control but I was terrified.”

She said she kept screaming: “Get the baby out.” It must have been terrifying for them all.

The impact to Ms Fairweather 

This poor lady had just started a new job as a care worker – one of the most noble and worthy jobs that anyone could do. As a result of her broken wrist she has been signed off work for two months. Her teenage son is having to help wash and dress her – not something that most teenagers would normally have to do and something that might be quite embarrassing for any mother to have to go through.

In my experience, care workers, unless they have been employed by the NHS for some years, are unlikely to have the benefit of decent sickpay provisions in their contract. Hopefully I’m wrong, but if I am wrong, I hope that a beneficent employer would pay this innocent woman in full, recouping it from the wrongdoer’s Insurance in due course. Here, as a passenger, Ms Fairweather’s claim ought to be successful because she has two potential people to bring claims against: the Prince and/or her friend, had her friend driven negligently.

Should the Prince have apologised?

I have seen much commentary on social media saying that – of course the Prince shouldn’t have apologised, because it would be fatal to any actions brought against him, either under criminal law or by way of a compensation claim. I can’t write about criminal law as I don’t practice it.

In relation to the law regarding personal injury claims, the little-known Compensation Act 2006 was in part introduced to clarify that apologies are not binding when it comes to compensation claims. Section 2 states: 

“An apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not of itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty.”

Therefore had the Prince apologised, in terms of any compensation claim, it wouldn’t mean that he had admitted liability.

However, as an experienced Personal Injury Solicitor, if I was representing an innocent person who had been injured in a Road Traffic Accident and had the other driver said sorry, then I would definitely state this in the claim and it would certainly feature in the event that the claim went to a trial (which happens about 1% of the time). I think the apology would influence an insurer or their lawyers to settle a claim.

My view? The Prince should have apologised, though he must also be in shock and perhaps isn’t thinking clearly. Why? On a human level, the Prince appears callous – hence the frontpage splash. By not apologising he has made it more likely that claims will be brought. He has also damaged his own reputation.

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Catherine Reynolds
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