P-plate driver wins payout of $4.3m

A P-PLATE driver left quadriplegic after a car crash near Grafton was yesterday awarded $4.3million in damages, after suing the local council that was carrying out roadworks at the accident site.

Jon Watt, now 25, suffered severe spinal injuries when he crashed his Holden sedan on the Summerland Way, north of Grafton, in March 1998. He successfully sued Copmanhurst Shire Council (since merged into the Clarence Valley Council) in the NSW Supreme Court for negligence, claiming poor signage and loose gravel on the road led to the accident.

Mr Watt was driving to his grandparents' house in Grafton when he passed through roadworks on the Summerland Way.

The court was told that when he braked to avoid a kangaroo, his car fishtailed on loose gravel, hit an embankment and flipped over. The council had erected signs in the area limiting the speed to 60kmh, warning of roadworks and advising motorists to slow down. But Mr Watt argued the council should have displayed signs alerting drivers to the condition of the road, and repeated warning signs every 500 metres. Justice Timothy Studdert found the council should have cleaned away any build-up of loose gravel and put up signs warning of its presence on the road. The council's failure to take such steps contributed to the accident. But Mr Watt also failed to take reasonable care for his own safety, Justice Studdert found. The 18-year-old P-plate driver had been travelling at 80kmh ?20kmh over the limit ? when he lost control of his car.

He said he did not remember seeing signs warning of roadworks.

But even if proper safety signs had been in place, and Mr Watt had seen them, he probably would not have slowed down, Justice Studdert said.

"This accident occurred in broad daylight, in dry weather conditions," the judge said.

"It seems to me that had he been keeping a proper lookout ... the plaintiff should have been aware that there was a change in the condition of the road surface."

Justice Studdert said Mr Watt was driving too fast in the circumstances, which 'contributed to the accident that occurred in very real measure'.

Had Mr Watt not shared responsibility for the accident, the judge would have awarded him $6.5million in damages.

But he reduced the payout by a third, awarding damages of $4.33million.

Mr Watt had earlier settled a claim with the Roads and Traffic Authority over the accident.

Council has declined to comment on the case.

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