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Title: Fatal Accidents - What should we expect at an Inquest

Date: 23 March 2011


My brother-in-law was killed in an accident on the A361 in Wiltshire last year while out with a couple of friends on their bikes. He lost control on a bend and had a head on collision with a car coming in the opposite direction. What caused him to lose control is not clear as his friends who witnessed the accident deny that he (or they) were speeding. My sister’s family liaison officer has said that the inquest will be soon. Can you tell me what is involved in an inquest and what we should do?
Lewis Edwards, by e-mail
I am very sorry to hear about your family’s loss. An Inquest is a medical/legal enquiry held by a Coroner into the death of the deceased but it is not a trial. The purpose of an inquest is to establish the identity of the deceased, when the person died, where they died and how the death occurred. In road traffic accidents the most common verdict is accidental death.
Inquests can be very useful fact finding exercises in anticipation of a civil claim against a third party on behalf of the Estate of the deceased. For example the Coroner can be asked to call witnesses so that they can give oral evidence and the solicitor or barrister representing the family of the deceased can question them at the hearing.
Advance disclosure can be sought, for example of the collision investigator’s report, which will be an expert opinion as to how the collision occurred. This can be vital as there may have been a contaminant on the road surface, a vehicular defect (which will be dealt with by a police vehicle examiner) or a problem with the road surface itself. Also the issue of speed will no doubt be addressed in this report. In some cases (of public importance) a Coroner can be asked to have a jury present although in road traffic accident cases this is very rare.
I strongly advise you to seek legal representation at the inquest. Often, an insurance policy will pay for the legal costs or, if the evidence is that a successful civil claim can be brought, a solicitor may be happy to act on a no-win, no-fee basis. The civil claim for damages will follow the inquest and in such a claim the Estate/Dependents can claim damages.

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