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Case handler: Gillian Lakes (Senior Solicitor)
In this case, our client, aged 7 years old at the time, was travelling as a rear seated passenger in a motor vehicle being driven by his father. The Defendant who was driving her vehicle along the same stretch of road but travelling in the opposite direction attempted to perform an overtaking manoeuvre and, whilst doing so, moved her vehicle into the opposite carriageway and directly into the path of our client's oncoming car. A head-on collision occurred between the 2 vehicles during the course of which all occupants of our client sustained serious personal injury.
This was a very complexed and upsetting case as described below.
Key elements of our client's case
As a result of the accident, our client suffered the following injuries:
Our client had no warning of the impending impact, but the forces involved caused him to be thrown forward, the seatbelt snapped, and he travelled between the 2 front seats, striking his head on the dashboard. The Emergency Services attended the scene and our client was taken to the local A&E Department. He was admitted overnight for observation and discharged the following day. The discharge summary records that our client sustained minor injuries including abrasion to the forehead, laceration to the tongue and pain to the ankle.
The most significant injury suffered by our client was the potential that he may have suffered a head injury and/or a significant psychological reaction to the incident.
The Defendants initially agreed to fund an Immediate Needs Assessment to assess our client's rehabilitation/treatment needs but thereafter refused to fund rehabilitation and made an offer to settle our client's claim for an amount significantly less than the final settlement. An interim payment was sought to fund the rehabilitation to assist our client and he was advised that proper consideration could not be given to the offer at that time due to his age and his ongoing symptoms.
Where our specialist serious injury experience really added value to our client's situation
During the course of investigating our client's injuries, medical evidence was commissioned from experts in the fields of:
In addition, the Defendant's obtained a medical report from a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist and a Consultant Educational & Neuropsychologist.
In the accident, our client sustained what has been categorised as a ‘mild’ head injury. The objective indicators of head injury revealed that he did not lose consciousness, did not suffer any fractures, there was no radiological evidence of brain injury, and there was no prolonged period of retrograde or post traumatic amnesia.
Notwithstanding this assessment, our client displayed symptoms which included attention difficulty, problems with concentration, weakness with emotional control, inhibition and difficulties with planning and organisation. Tests were carried out to determine whether these symptoms were as a result of a brain injury or a psychological reaction. The tests revealed that he did display some delay in aspects of acquired knowledge which included verbal IQ, reading and numeracy. In addition, the tests identified some problems with everyday executive function, particularly with emotional control and communication. The conclusions of the testing expert were that it was “unclear” whether any organic injury was caused during the accident and that the neuropsychological results were consistent with both organic and psychological damage.
Why Serious Law was one of a select handful of firms uniquely able to handle the matter
The issues in the case were complicated further by our client's personal circumstances as his parents were also seriously injured in the accident and remained in hospital for a prolonged period. Whilst they both made a recovery from their injuries and returned home, sadly our client's mother died from unrelated circumstances and then his father died the following year. At the time of their deaths our client was just 11 years old. There is no doubt that the loss of his parents had a significant impact upon our client psychologically as he not only lost those closest to him, it also had a disruptive effect upon his life as he was forced to leave his family home and move in with his step-brother.
The central issue within this case was whether our client's symptoms were (a) as a result of head injury caused by the index accident, or (b) a psychological reaction caused by the index accident or (c) unrelated to the accident but caused solely by the death of his parents.
The Defendant's medical expert concluded that there was no clinical evidence that our client had sustained a brain injury and suggested that there had been a number of events in his life that very reasonably had caused significant psychological stress i.e. the accident and illness and deaths of each of his parents.
The central issue, therefore, for a Court to decide was which of these factors had caused the ongoing psychological injuries.
The evidence of our Neuropsychologist continued to support the view that our client had suffered a neuropsychological injury with emotional trauma as a direct result of his accident which was “made worse” by the subsequent loss of his parents and the moving to a new area/family. He highlighted how, in his opinion, our client's performance at school had deteriorated post-accident. He felt that our client's ongoing attention and executive problems would persist, and treatment was recommended for the ongoing mental health issues he was experiencing.
He was also concerned that our client may be at a high risk of under-achievement in employment and, cognitively, whilst he was capable of employment, his mental health and behavioural problems would affect his ability to engage with such activities at pre-accident levels. He also highlighted that there was a risk that our client may struggle to cope living independently. Further treatment was recommended.
The Defendant’s Neuropsychologist took a very different view. Whilst he acknowledged that our client was experiencing ongoing symptoms, he concluded that it was much more likely that they arose as a direct result of the circumstances surrounding the death of his parents and the upheaval in his life rather than the effects of the index accident.
When considering all the evidence, it was questionable due to the differing opinions of the medical experts whether our client would be able to persuade a Court that he had been left with ongoing symptoms as a direct result of the injuries sustained in his accident. Whilst he no doubt suffered injuries in the accident and clearly displayed ongoing symptoms, other than one of the medical experts, the evidence suggested that the ongoing symptoms were unrelated to the effects of the accident.
It was therefore clear that any damages awarded to our client would be very limited. On the basis of the evidence put before them, the Defendant attempted to negotiate settlement and put forward a five figure offer. Our advice to our client was that the offer was significantly higher than he would achieve at trial on the basis of the medical evidence and that he should accept. Due to our client's age, we recommended settlement at the sum offered to his Litigation Friend who agreed and the settlement, again due to his age, was accordingly approved by the Court.