£9 million in damages secured for road accident victim with life-changing spinal injury

We have recently achieved a negotiated settlement for a client in his early thirties, who was catastrophically injured while out cycling with his fiancée.

They were complying with the Highway Code, cycling in single file along a wide stretch of road in Yorkshire, when a van drove into them from behind. Our client was thrown from his bike by the impact. He sustained multiple injuries as a result, including several spinal fractures, the most serious of which caused permanent damage to his spinal cord. He also suffered a closed brain injury and a number of other fractures and soft tissue injuries.

Our client was transferred by air ambulance to hospital where he underwent surgery to try to stabilise the spinal fractures. He was left with incomplete paraplegia, particularly affecting power and sensation on his left side. His bladder and bowel function were also severely impaired.

The paraplegia means our client is now dependent on a wheelchair to mobilise. Using a specialist frame, a C-Brace obtained during the claim, he is able to stand and walk for very short periods, but activity using the C-Brace is tiring. He is mostly confined to his wheelchair.

We were instructed at an early stage after the accident. There were a number of practical considerations that needed addressing alongside the legal claim. These included arranging an Immediate Needs Assessment and instructing a case manager to implement an effective package to meet our client’s initial requirements. It became apparent that the flat our client owned was no longer suitable for him because he was unable to use the stairs to access his home. We engaged property search consultants to identify alternative accommodation for our client to move into when he was discharged from hospital. We were able to work with the van driver’s insurer to fund the costs of our client moving home and the rental cost of moving into wheelchair-accessible accommodation.

The new property was closer to our client’s workplace, so also helped achieve his objective of returning to his previous work in commercial property in the City. However, the effect of coping with his injuries and managing day-to-day activities caused him significant fatigue, neuro-cognitive difficulties and affected him psychologically. Being wheelchair-bound was a significant impediment to his work. He was therefore able to continue working only reduced hours. Over the longer term, expert evidence found that he will become further limited in his work capacity due to increasing fatigue and is unlikely to be able to continue in his previous role.

The van driver pleaded guilty to criminal charges of driving without due care, shortly following which his insurer admitted liability for the accident and our client’s civil claim.

The insurer accepted that our client had sustained serious injuries, but required evidence of the full extent of the injuries for which our client sought damages.

We therefore had to investigate fully the injuries our client sustained and his current condition, as well as his likely long-term prognosis and the practical needs he has or will have in future as a result of the accident. We obtained his medical notes and records and instructed a number of experts to determine the full extent of the injuries and his needs. This included medical experts in spinal surgery; other orthopaedic surgery; urology; neurology; colo-rectal surgery; and to determine the psychiatric/emotional impact of the accident. A number of investigations, images and tests had to be arranged to enable us to finalise aspects of these experts’ reports, including radiology and arranging consultation with a pain management expert. This evidence in turn informed the other areas we needed to investigate with further expert input in order to address our client’s therapeutic, physical and practical needs incurred as a result of the accident. These included his current and future care and occupational therapy needs and neuro-physiotherapy. That evidence also helped identify the equipment and adaptations needed to enable our client to return to some of the hobbies and pastimes he had previously enjoyed, including some limited outdoor pursuits.

Extensive witness and other evidence was needed as to the impact of the accident on our client’s personal, home and work lives. This included evidence in support of the career trajectory our client would have been likely realistically to achieve but for the injuries he sustained in the accident. The medical evidence was clear that there was no prospect of him performing to the same extent because of his injuries. Indeed, the medical experts considered that it was likely that over time, with increasing fatigue and deterioration in his health, our client would be forced to curtail his working hours further and, ultimately, to have to change to a role that would be less physically demanding. With this evidence, we assessed a substantial claim for loss of earnings and, with expert input, also a significant claim for the impact of the loss of earnings on our client’s future pension arrangements.

During the course of the claim, our client was concerned about securing suitable accommodation as the rental option the insurer was funding was not a viable long-term option to meet the needs our experts identified. Any property was likely to need extensive adaptation to address those needs. Our client bought a home while the case was ongoing and we obtained expert evidence on the suitability of that property and the extensive works needed to meet our client’s reasonable long-term needs, including providing him with a lift to access all areas of the home, space for equipment to enable him to maintain his physical function and adaptations throughout to accommodate wheelchair use.

While our investigations were ongoing, we secured a total of £500,000 in interim payments of damages to enable our client to obtain and implement appropriate support, therapies and equipment and to progress with his long-term accommodation arrangements. We reviewed the expert evidence as our client’s recovery progressed and arranged for this to be updated as needed throughout the case.

The evidence we amassed of our client’s extensive past losses and the future financial costs he faced enabled us to prepare a long schedule, setting out in full the details of the financial claim he brought.

It was necessary to issue court proceedings in the case, following which we served our medical expert evidence on the defendant and disclosed the other experts’ reports in support of the extensive financial losses set out in our client’s schedule of loss. The case was pending a hearing at the High Court to fix the scope of evidence and timetable up to and including trial when a meeting held between the parties to negotiate the issues in the case and its value led to an agreement to settle the claim for £9 million plus our client’s reasonable legal costs.

The case was conducted initially by Philippa Luscombe, who leads the personal injury team in our Guildford office, and later by Andrew Clayton, senior associate in the same team who specialises in spinal injury claims, with assistance from other fee-earners as appropriate and with advice from leading counsel, Mr Joel Donovan QC.

We have separately negotiated settlement of a claim on behalf of this client’s fiancée arising out of the same accident for the injuries she suffered, which included a head injury, orthopaedic fractures and scarring for which further surgery is recommended.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP