Family Affair: `I can't blame mum for the accident'

Six years ago, 16-year-old John-Paul Dowse nearly died when the car driven by his 42-year-old mother, Sue, crashed into a signpost. John- Paul's father, Paul, is now taking legal action on his son's behalf in a bid for compensation. The family lives in Whitley Bay
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Sue

As I started to lose control of the car, I was thinking "Oh my God". In a mad panic, I crashed into a signpost and was knocked out for a few seconds. I came to and thought: "What have I done?" The impact was on John-Paul's side of the car, and he was bent like a banana. My daughter Gemma had been flipped into the boot and her twin Steven was trapped behind John-Paul. At first I thought John-Paul was dead, I kept crying and saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry". When I heard him scream, I was relieved, but still felt awful, he was in great pain because of me.

I broke my pelvis and had to stay in hospital for three days. All I did was cry. When I stopped, all I could do was think about the accident and that would start me off again.

I felt really guilty about the situation, but there was no hostility towards me. If people did think it was my fault, they never showed it. The only time John-Paul ever showed any anger towards me was in the hospital. He'd get frustrated and talk to me in a different tone to his dad. I thought it was because he was blaming me for his pain. I'd question him, but he always denied it. I think even if he did blame me, he wouldn't let on: he hates to see me upset.

John-Paul has suffered so much pain and frustration, it's hard watching it. His injuries meant that he couldn't play games with other children and lost a lot of his childhood. I'd watch him walking down the street limping, and think: that's down to me. If he got really down, I'd say "just think yourself lucky, you're alive". Recently, we were told John- Paul might have to get his foot amputated. I really wanted to do something to make it up to him. I'd dream of winning the lottery so I could pay him back.

So when my husband's solicitor said it was possible to claim compensation, I was keen to go ahead. It's just an insurance claim for the injuries resulting from the accident. When the press got hold of the story, they seemed to misinterpret what was going on. They thought John-Paul was suing me directly.

I'm not sure how much money we will get. We've certainly never quoted amounts to John-Paul in case it's a let-down. When people ask, I say "yes, we are doing it for the money". We're not relying on it; if it comes, it will be a bonus.

I think the accident has brought the family closer together. We discuss things more easily now. The family have become more concerned about me since the accident. When I first discovered I had angina, my daughter wouldn't let me out of her sight. She thought I was going to drop down dead at any moment.

I have a great relationship with John-Paul now. He tells me about his girlfriends, maybe not everything, but he spills his heart out to me. When he talks about cars, I have to try very hard to look interested.

Although I've been strong enough to accept the blame, I've always wished that it could have been me that was hurt. In some ways, I feel this legal action is me going through something for him. If I have to stand up in court in order to do something to benefit my son, then I'm more than willing.

John-Paul

My life changed six years ago when I was injured in the car accident. I snapped both femurs, shattered my pelvis in five places and damaged the sciatic nerve in my right leg. I had lots of abdominal injuries as well. The internal bleeding sent me unconscious. My brother and sister, who were in the back of the car, were not badly hurt. Luckily, a passing doctor pulled over and managed to fit me up to a drip. If it hadn't been for him, I would have died.

Initially, we were told that I would never walk again. My dad decided to get a second opinion, and this time I was told I would be walking in a few weeks. A week later, I was swinging my legs around and after a few weeks I could actually stand.

My mum felt really guilty about what happened. Some days she'd sit and cry with me. At first we didn't talk about the accident, it was an awkward subject. Talking about the injuries was nothing, but actually discussing the course of events was very difficult. But there was never any tension between us, we never really argued. She knows I don't hold her responsible, I would never say "it's your fault". Most of the time, I didn't say much at all. But sometimes it would get so on top of me that I'd start crying my eyes out. I'd sit with my mum and dad and talk about the future. I felt as if I was always having to be optimistic, always looking to a future when things would get better.

My friends ask why I don't blame her. In some respects, you could say she was responsible because she was driving. But I don't really see it like that. It was an accident. If I had been with a driver who had been drinking, or wasn't paying attention, it would have been different. I think I would have felt resentful.

I didn't feel any real frustration until I came out of hospital and saw my friends and brother playing football. I could barely walk in a straight line. I thought "why me?" I spent the first two years after the accident wishing I could play football until I realised there were more important things in life. I'm not as restricted now that I'm older, I go to the cinema or hang-out with friends.

Everything is fine now, apart from nerve damage. I've lost all use of my right foot and I can't feel anything from the knee down. At first, when I first started walking, it was really painful. But my mum and dad kept pushing me. I probably would have given up without them.

When the idea of claiming compensation first came up, I was only 11 and didn't really know or care about it. As I've got older, I realise that the money will be there to fall back on. For instance, if people won't employ me because of my limp. Friends have read reports in local papers and ask why I'm suing my mum? They are surprised it's the insurance company being sued, and it's not just me being nasty.

Suing a parent could put a strain on a relationship, but it's brought us closer together. I still talk to her about things that are worrying me. I think being able to talk about the accident in a relaxed manner has stopped me getting upset and feeling sorry for myself.

Interviews by Daisy Price

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