A Serious Injury Case Study - Client Situation
Jamie was hit by a car as he rode his bicycle home from school in November 2006. He suffered a badly broken leg in the road accident and his head hit the windscreen, fracturing his nasal bones.
He was taken firstly by ambulance to his local hospital in Durham and then to the main neurological hospital in Newcastle. Whilst he was there, he suffered an epileptic seizure and had to be sedated and was unconscious whilst they treated his fractures, only regaining consciousness the next day on the ward. Jamie made a remarkable recovery and was soon released from hospital, although he was still on crutches and in plaster.
However, the hospital did not assist him in relation to his head injury and the family weren’t told about the extent of it, save that he was okay and had suffered a couple of fractures to his face. They weren’t given advice about the possibility he may have also suffered brain damage in the road accident, which might have a lifelong effect on him. Some years later, when we investigated this, expert neurosurgeons in the case concluded that the CT scan of the head taken at the hospital did show evidence of brain damage.
The accident had occurred in the run-up to Jamie’s GCSEs, but he had to have a long period off school recovering and only went back for 2 weeks until his exams took place in June. Jamie wasn’t a gifted student but was talented with anything mechanical and loved working with engines or cars.
After Jamie made a full recovery from the broken leg, his mother took him to see a local Solicitor and a head injury claim was brought on his behalf against the driver who had hit him that day. At this time, his mother noticed Jamie had “changed” since the accident, as he was no longer helpful around the home, or polite and kind as he had been. Instead, he became argumentative and lost motivation for anything, even the engines and cars he had been so keen on before.
The arguments got so bad that his mother couldn’t cope and Jamie moved out of the home to live with his grandmother who lived nearby. He also found it impossible to concentrate at college, having enrolled on a course after his GCSEs. From having predicted grades of B’s in those GCSEs before his accident, he left big school with a couple of C’s and a D, but the fact that he’d managed to pass any exam at all given the time he had off and his injuries was testament to the fact that his intellect hadn’t been affected by the accident and the head injury. However, it also confirmed that the time he missed in the run-up to the exams and his brain injury had a massive effect on his abilities.
Jamie struggled to find any work and was told to leave college as he was disruptive in class and simply lost all motivation and focus, despite his pre-accident interests and hopes for the future. The lecturers at the college hadn’t known Jamie before the accident, so assumed his behaviour was typical and he had no support from anywhere. His family and his mother, meanwhile, assumed it was part of his going through adolescence and the college just thought he was a problem teenager and were glad to have him leave the course he had enrolled for.
His uncle had no idea that the changes in his behaviour were anything to do with the accident when he was 15, but continued to look out for him and secured a job for Jamie on a production line doing repetitive and mundane work at a local factory. Jamie was regularly in trouble there for time-keeping as he struggled with fatigue and concentration issues.
He was often inappropriate with other workers and fell out with some of the migrant staff, who like Jamie, were on very low wages. Despite being disciplined about his behaviour on numerous occasions, he was able to just about retain this job mainly due to his own determination not to let his uncle down. He was also desperate for money to pay his bills and the employer overlooked his behaviour as it was hard to find staff for their factory on such low wages.
How We Helped
The family had arranged for Jamie’s legal case to be transferred to me in 2009 as they were unhappy at the delays in the case. At that stage, the previous Solicitor had only obtained a report from a surgeon dealing with the leg fracture but nothing else.
I instructed a neurosurgeon to review the hospital records and as soon as I was told the history of his problems, which seemed to stem from the accident, it seemed to me that his various difficulties were very similar to other people I’d acted for before who had suffered a brain injury in an accident.
The reports came back from brain injury experts confirming my fears, but at least giving the family some understanding of why Jamie was so different and why his mother had found him so hard to live with after the accident.
The insurer of the driver of the car that had hit him didn’t accept this or agree it was a result of the accident, even though they saw the records for themselves from the hospital that showed he had suffered a seizure, was unconscious for some time and had suffered the facial fractures to his head and face.
For them, they saw a young man who’d left school without any real qualifications from a working class family who was able to hold down a job, and therefore they didn’t think he needed any help in the future and wanted to only compensate him for his leg injury.
I was aware that the medical experts all believed Jamie had suffered brain damage and that this would profoundly affect his future. At this point, Jamie’s problems at work had got so bad he was told to leave, so he was made unemployed. His gran suffered a stroke and he was unable to care for her and when she subsequently died soon after, he was made homeless and had no other choice but to return to his mother’s home. His mother had by now seen the medical reports and records and was aware that Jamie couldn’t help his problems, and so she wanted to try helping him and agreed to him moving back into her home.
It became clear that without prompting, guidance and help, he would spend all day in bed. He was by this time in his 20s, but still acting as a perpetual teenager trapped forever mentally in the age group of a 13 to 14-year-old. The expert evidence from the doctors recommended that he needed a full case management package to help motivate and bring some quality back into his life, together with more structured routines and possibly voluntary work that he could cope with and give him some sense of achievement and purpose.
The insurer of the vehicle that hit Jamie tried to blame the hospital who treated him after the collision, and then argued that his problems were related to a possible schizophrenia, which they argued was in place before the accident. They demanded disclosure of historical school and GP records, which were sent to them and after a massive search, they were only able to point to a few problem months Jamie had had when he was only 11, which was clearly related to his parents separating and his dad moving away to live with a new partner. The insurer’s Solicitors then tried to argue his problems were due to a pre-existing malformation which had shown up on a MRI scan of the brain taken in 2012, only for all of the experts to discount this as totally unconnected with his problems.
They valued the claim to be worth no more than £10,000 for the injury to the leg and made a derisory offer on that basis. They put all of these very different arguments before the District Judge, some of which were supported by their experts, and as such, they successfully resisted my attempts to seek an interim payment to help pay for what Jamie needed. After six years of battles, the case went to a full trial before in February 2016.
Jamie’s family all gave evidence at the High Court in Newcastle, as did experts in neurology, neurosurgery, neuropsychiatry, neuropsychology and neuroradiology. Experts in neurorehabilitation and care were also called, along with Jamie’s financial deputy.
I can say without hesitation that each day of the ten-day trial, Jamie’s team won hands down. The experts won their personal battles, such that the Judge indicated before he was to hear final submissions from the barristers and give his Judgement that he was satisfied:
- Jamie had suffered a brain injury in the accident
- Jamie’s problems were all caused by this injury
This left only a consideration of what his needs were and how much those needs would cost for Jamie’s lifetime to calculate the claim and for the Judge to set the award of compensation. The defence, running scared of the final Judgement, then came to me to offer to settle the claim before Judgement and put forward an amount of £1.5 million compensation.
As much as it would have been wonderful to see in writing what the Judge’s views were, as he had expressed clearly throughout the trial what a marvellous job I’d done with my counsel Winston Hunter QC in preparing and presenting the case, the offer was too good to refuse and amounted to our calculation of the maximum the Judge would have awarded when he had put the calculations together.
In the end, the proposed settlement was placed before the Judge and he both approved the settlement and again expressed his praise at the way the case had been handled, remarking that the settlement represented approximately what he would’ve awarded had he calculated the compensation award himself.
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