A criminal injury claim

Trethowans were instructed by a 17 year old man, to make an application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) on his behalf for damages following an assault which had left him seriously injured.

Background

Our client had spent an evening out with friends.  At the end of the evening the group went to a house owned by the parents of one of the friends present.  After some time at this house he fell asleep in front of the television in an armchair in the living room.

When he awoke he immediately noticed flames all around him.  He felt extreme pain and burning around his chest and face and began to panic.  It transpired that whilst he had been asleep he had been doused in highly flammable liquid (lighter fuel and windscreen cleaner) and then deliberately set alight.

Injuries

He was initially taken to the Accident & Emergency Department at Southampton General Hospital.  He was placed on a life support machine before being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit and then ultimately to the Burns Unit at Salisbury District Hospital.  He had sustained severe burns to his face, neck, chest, upper arms and forearm.  He underwent surgery to graft skin from his thigh onto his injured arms.

He spent five weeks in hospital and thereafter continued to attend the Burns Unit as an outpatient.  In addition to the physical injuries he also sustained significant psychological injuries as a result of the assault. He suffered from fatigue, lack of energy, low mood and loss of confidence.  He had great difficulties sleeping as he suffered nightmares and flashbacks relating to the assault.

Fortunately his physical injuries healed well over time.  However, he continued to be psychologically affected as a result of the assault.  His family noticed distinct changes in his personality.  A previously easy-going, sociable young man had, since the assault, become quick tempered, argumentative and reclusive.  He reached the stage where he no longer felt safe and comfortable living and working in his home town.  He moved abroad to work.

Police enquiries

The Police were informed of the assault by our client’s mother shortly after his admission to hospital.  He co-operated fully with the police’s enquiries.  These enquiries ultimately led to two of the group present at the time of the assault being charged and subsequently convicted of Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) in relation to the attack on our client.

Claim

Once all the relevant details and information had been obtained in relation to the assault (including the police records, witness statements and medical records from the hospital and GP) an application was submitted to CICA.  The initial application was rejected by the CICA panel on the grounds that our client had contributed to the incident by consuming alcohol prior to the incident (the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme requires the applicant’s conduct before, during and after the incident to be taken into consideration).  In addition, his character was called into question by the fact that he had consumed alcohol (the Scheme also requires the applicant’s character to be taken into consideration).

The decision was taken to appeal the decision of the CICA panel.  On applying for review of the decision (the application for review is considered by a more senior CICA case worker) the following points were emphasised and argued on his behalf:

  • He had no previous criminal convictions and was therefore of good character;
  • He was asleep immediately prior to and at the time of the assault.  He had no knowledge of and played no role in either the planning or execution of the assault, nor did he have any opportunity to reason with his attackers or defend himself.  He was entirely unaware that any incident was taking place at all until he awoke to find his clothes were alight.  In the circumstances he could not be held to have contributed to the incident in any way.
  • This was a horrific, unprovoked attack which caused severe physical and psychological injuries.  Through no fault of his own he sustained 25% burns to his upper body, extensive scarring and significant psychological trauma.

The application for review of the original decision was accepted by CICA.  The original decision was overturned and he was granted a full award of compensation in respect of his injuries.  Under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme he was awarded a sum of money in compensation for the 25% burns and psychological trauma caused by the crime of violence perpetrated against him.