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Coach Crash Brings Back Painful Memories

The recent coach crash near Rheims in France followed on from previous coach crashes involving British holidaymakers. Five years ago a party consisting of pupils, parents and teachers from Kingsland Grange School in Shrewsbury were being transported by coach from the French Alps ski resort of Vars to Grenoble Airport for their return flight to Manchester Airport. 

The accident occurred on a mountain road just outside Mizoen. The coach passed numerous flashing warning notices of black ice along the alpine road. Notwithstanding the warnings of black ice, the darkness and the winding road, the tachograph recording showed the coach had been travelling at approximately 60mph at the time of impact. The driver lost control of the coach when it hit ice. The coach smashed into a rock face, then spun 360 degrees before demolishing a telegraph pole and coming to rest against a crash barrier, the other side of which was a steep drop down the side of a mountain.

Max Bishop was head of Design and Technology at the school and had organised the ski trip. He was found on the roadside near to where the first collision occurred. He was the most seriously injured passenger. Alistair Windsor, a Consultant Anaesthetist and Piers Newman, a Consultant Neurologist, both parents on the trip, attended to Mr Bishop providing him with emergency treatment which together with the considerable input at Grenoble Hospital saved his life.

Mr Bishop was the most seriously injured of all claimants. He sustained a severe brain injury and was in a critical condition in hospital in Grenoble before being flown back to the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford, Shropshire where he remained for several weeks. He suffered bruising and bleeding of the brain and required neurosurgery, plus a fracture of the skull. He suffers from headaches, dizziness, loss of smell and taste, deafness of the right ear and loss of balance. He has suffered a change of personality and the effects of his injuries continue to have a significant impact on his day to day life. 

Following intensive rehabilitation and retraining, together with very considerable effort and determination on the part of Mr Bishop, he managed to return to work teaching IT. However despite his best efforts he was unable to sustain his employment and is now medically retired.

Lisa Bishop-Thomas, Mr Bishop’s wife commented “Seeing the pictures of the coach on its side on the roadside brought back horrible memories of January 2007. My husband was in tears and found it difficult to watch on the news when the accident was being reported. His accident has changed his life and the lives of his family. Five years ago I was telephoned with the news at home, dropped everything and flew to France. I didn’t know whether he would be alive or dead or how badly he was injured. I had seen footage of the crash at home early that morning. I had to return to France on two further occasions before he was well enough to return to England.

“Five years on and we are still making adjustments to our lives. Many of these adjustments were only possible due to the outcome Neil Lorimer and the team of solicitors from Lanyon Bowdler secured. We had never before been involved with any litigation. I cannot thank them enough for their expertise, thoroughness and how sensitively they managed the case whilst securing a settlement for Mr Bishop.

“I empathise with the passengers and their relatives of this coach accident having experienced the aftermath of the Grenoble Coach crash. It would also have been so difficult for the teachers trying to look after the pupils in a foreign country in such harrowing circumstances. My thoughts are with the injured, their loved ones and the relatives, friends and colleagues of the teacher who lost his life.”

Civil proceedings were brought against the driver, the local coach operator and their insurers in the High Court in England. Although the accident occurred in France and involved French Defendants, under European law a victim of a road traffic accident occurring in the EU can bring their claim in their home Court. 

Neil Lorimer, head of personal injury with Shropshire & Herefordshire law firm Lanyon Bowdler, and his Accidents Abroad team acted for 24 claimants in total, the majority of whom sustained minor to moderate physical and psychiatric injuries. There was a complex dispute in the action with respect to whether the law to be applied to the issues of liability and assessment of damages should be French law or English law. Ultimately all of the issues were resolved by out of Court settlement with Mr Bishop’s case being the last to settle. In all, over £2m in damages were awarded. 

In 2009 Neil secured a £1.9m settlement for Mr Bishop. Following approval of the award by the High Court in London Neil said: “The £1.9m has been carefully calculated to meet Mr Bishop’s extensive needs now and for the rest of his life. The fund will be held and managed by the Court of Protection and will be used to meet those needs. Part of the award also replaces his extensive loss of income following early retirement.”

Commenting after the award Mr Bishop said: “I just want to say I am very grateful for all of the support and hard work put in by my solicitors, Neil Lorimer and Gayle Kinsey from Lanyon Bowdler. I also want to thank all of my family and friends, my rehab team plus the local community for all their help and support. Also, the staff at the school where I was teaching at the time of the accident have helped enormously.”

Neil Lorimer and his Accidents Abroad team have considerable experience of representing injured parties and the families of those affected by coach and bus accidents around the world. In 1990 11 people, including six from Shropshire, were killed and 60 injured, when their holiday coach careered off a French motorway. The deaths occurred when the double-decker coach crashed on the A6 motorway near Auxerre, about 80 miles south of Paris. The coach went out of control and veered into a ditch. The victims were coming home from the Costa Brava in Spain, when a tyre burst, the driver lost control and the vehicle left the road ending up on its side.

Neil said “The common denominator of these crashes is that the passengers are innocent victims. Most are due to driver error such as travelling too fast, not paying attention or falling asleep at the wheel, or defects with the coach caused by faulty parts or poor maintenance. They are avoidable and accidents could be reduced by better supervision and management of driver’s hours improved training and less pressure put on drivers to meet tight deadlines by their employers together with better maintenance systems and compliance.

“I am really sorry to see that once again people’s lives have been turned upside down when they were on their way back from what should have been a trip leaving lasting happy memories. Our thoughts are with the relatives and injured passengers and all at Alvechurch School at this time.”