Trethowans were instructed by Mr H, a 29 year old man, to pursue a personal injury claim following serious spinal injuries that he sustained in an accident.
Mr H was a self-employed builder and a partner in the family business. At the time of the accident he and his father were contracted by the Defendant (another builder) to work on a chapel conversion.
On the day of the accident Mr H was instructed by the Defendant to work on a first floor landing. Whilst he was working part of the landing near the staircase gave way and he fell some 12 feet through the floor to the ground below. He landed heavily on his heels, sustaining a severe compression fracture to his spinal cord.
The first issue that needed to be addressed was the Defendant's insurance position. This was not straight forward as the Defendant was an individual, not a large building firm or a limited company. Further, our client was not an employee of the Defendant. Trethowans therefore had to make detailed enquires with the Defendant's insurers and solicitors as it was clear that his employers' liability insurance would not cover the claim. Fortunately, an indemnity was provided by a separate public liability insurance policy that the Defendant had in place. This meant Mr H could proceed with his claim.
Liability was also an issue that had to be fully investigated at the outset. The Defendant made an early admission of primary liability but raised allegations of contributory negligence against Mr H. They argued that he was a skilled and experienced builder himself who should have been aware of the risks and hazards associated with the work he was asked to and should have taken greater care of himself. As he had been on site for some 2 weeks prior to the accident they argued that he should have known that part of the floor had not been secured and he should have raised this with the Defendant.
The Defendant put forward an offer to apportion liability on an 80%/20% basis in Mr H's favour. This offer was considered carefully but Trethowans maintained on Mr H's behalf that he had done nothing wrong and should not accept any responsibility for the accident or for the catastrophic injuries he had suffered. He had been hired by the Defendant to carry out general building work on the site and this is what he had been doing. He was instructed on what to do by the Defendant at all times. The Defendant himself was on site and had told Mr H to carry out work on the landing, even though the Defendant knew that part of the floor had not been secured. It was clear the Defendant was not an amateur home owner, he had significant building experience and expertise. He was essentially relying on Mr H and his father for labour rather than any specialist expertise they might have been able to offer. In essence, we remained confident that Mr H would establish that the Defendant had complete control over the building work and would ultimately have to accept full liability.
The Defendant's offer was rejected. Further negotiations took place as to liability but the Defendant eventually conceded the issue, withdrew their allegations of contributory negligence and made a full admission of liability. This was an excellent result for Mr H as he could now be safe in the knowledge that he would be entitled to receive the full value of his claim in damages.
Injuries / Recovery
The focus of the claim now turned to dealing with issues of quantum, so that we could value how much Mr H's claim was worth.
Sadly, Mr H had suffered an incomplete crushed fracture of his vertebrae (at T12) with associated spinal cord damage. This was an extremely serious spinal injury. He had been taken by Air Ambulance to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth immediately after the accident and he underwent surgery to insert screws into his vertebrae (at T10, T11, L1 and L2). From there he was transferred to the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Unit at Salisbury District Hospital.
Mr H remained an inpatient at the Spinal Unit in Salisbury for 6 months. During this time he received extensive treatment, physiotherapy and rehabilitation. He made good progress, above and beyond what the doctors had first envisaged. He was then declared fit enough to be discharged home.
At the time of the accident Mr H had been living in a first floor flat with friends. This was now obviously unsuitable for his needs and he was therefore discharged home to live temporarily at his parents property (which had been specially adapted to provide some ground floor accommodation for him - bedroom, wet room etc).
To his great credit Mr H continued to make good progress in terms of recovery after his discharge home. He showed enormous determination to make as full a recovery as possible and he persevered with regular physiotherapy and rehabilitation treatment. He managed to improve his mobility to the extent that he can now walk short distances with the aid of crutches. He also managed to return to full time employment, carrying out bench work for a local company.
A case manager was jointly appointed by the parties to assist Mr H with his on-going treatment and rehabilitation once he had been discharged home.
The Case Manager also assisted in following up all recommendations as to treatment, therapy, rehabilitation, aids and equipment that were made by the experts (see below). In particular, new wheelchair equipment was purchased for Mr H.
Mr H enjoyed going shooting prior to the accident. In order to assist him to continue with this activity as far as possible, a specialist quad bike was purchased for him. This enabled him to do some shooting which sat on the bike.
Trethowans obtained extensive expert evidence in order to support all aspects of Mr H's claim. Detailed reports and advice were obtained from the following experts:
- Consultant Spinal Surgeon;
- Consultant Urologist (dealing with bladder and bowel difficulties);
- Consultant Clinical Psychologist;
- Consultant Physiotherapist;
- Occupational Therapist (dealing with issues of care, aids and equipment);
- Employment Consultant;
- Disability Accommodation Consultant.
Upon receipt of all the expert evidence Mr H was advised as to the likely value of his claim. Expert recommendations were followed up.
Court proceedings / Settlement
Proceedings in the High Court were commenced on Mr H's behalf just as soon as all the expert evidence was finalised. These proceedings were served on the Defendant's solicitors.
Shortly after service, a Joint Settlement meeting was held with the Defendant's representatives. Negotiations as to settlement were undertaken at this joint settlement meeting and offers put forward by both parties. These negotiations proved successful and a full and final settlement of the claim was agreed at the conclusion of the meeting. Mr H recovered in excess of £2m for his injuries, past losses and estimated future loss (principally loss of earnings, care and equipment).
It was extremely pleasing to settle the case without the need to progress the claim through the court process and to trial.
The settlement agreed with the Defendant included provisional damages. This meant that should Mr H's condition deteriorate in the future, he has the option to return to the Court and seek further damages. This provides important additional security.
Purchase of new accommodation
Around the same time as the joint settlement meeting, a property had been identified as suitable for Mr H needs. This was a large bungalow with plenty of surrounding grounds and scope for extension / adaptation. The property had been approved as suitable by the disability accommodation expert and the expert occupational therapist.
Following the settlement of the case Mr H was able to purchase this property out of his damages. He now has the security of a new, permanent home which will be adapted to meet his personal needs. The property will also allow for a live-in care regime should Mr H require this in later life.