‘Sophie’ – Cyclist hit by tractor

Case handler(s): Matthew Dixon (Senior Solicitor) assisted by Peter Eckersley (Solicitor) and Rebecca Hilton (Junior Solicitor).

In this case, our client was out cycling with a friend on a narrow country lane when she saw a tractor approaching at speed in the opposite direction. Both our client and her friend, who was slightly ahead of her, pulled in and stopped. Despite having to pass in close proximity to our client and her friend, the tractor, which was towing a large slurry tanker, failed to stop or slow down and proceeded at speed. The tractor collided with our client’s bike, pulling our client with her bike under the tractor and slurry tanker wheels.

As a result of the collision, our client sustained significant injuries including a fractured pelvis, sacral fracture, degloving injuries to her leg and buttocks, head injury, nerve damage, and psychological injuries. She had to undergo 3 operations on her pelvis and was an inpatient for 47 days.

Key elements of our client’s case

We were instructed by our client approximately 5 months after her accident and very quickly formulated a Letter of Claim and sent this to the Defendant’s insurance company raising specific allegations of negligence.

Despite the fact that the tractor driver denied liability for the accident, his Insurers agreed to us commissioning an Initial Needs Assessment to assess our client’s rehabilitation needs. The Initial Needs Assessment report was received around three weeks after our instructions.

Due to our client suffering with depression, urgent psychological treatment was required, and the Defendant agreed to authorise funding for this under The Rehabilitation Code.

Where we added value as serious injury specialists

As part of our enquiries into liability, we requested a police accident report. In response, the police confirmed that no further action against the Defendant was being taken. We informed the Defendant that our client’s financial difficulties were having an adverse effect on her rehabilitation and as such, requested a general interim payment for a significant five figure sum. In line with the request of the Defendant, we provided evidence in support of our client’s financial losses and pursued the interim payment needed to support our client.

We subsequently received the Police Report, however, liability remained a contentious issue in light of the parties reporting entirely different versions of the accident. The contents of the Police Report raised concerns in relation to the quality of the police investigations into the accident. We therefore continued extensive enquiries into the accident circumstances and forensically analysed the evidence.

Discussions with the Defendant’s insurer resulted in them reiterating that liability remained in dispute as their case was that our client and her friend were cycling two abreast, and our client ‘wobbled’ and fell off her bike in front of the tractor. On this basis, they stated that they were unable to release an interim payment. These circumstances were at complete odds with our client’s evidence which we supported. We therefore informed the Defendant that it was necessary to source external finance for our client’s business and that there would be a claim for interest and other charges.

In light of the Defendant’s stance on liability and the concerns with regards to the police investigation, we wrote to the police requesting further information on a number of points associated with the investigation that was undertaken. We obtained the ambulance and air ambulance records which were scrutinised. It was evident that they supported our client’s version of events in respect of the accident circumstances and injuries she sustained. In addition, we requested the 999 recording from the ambulance service and the recording of the Police’s interview of the tractor driver. Upon receipt of the 999 recording, we put together a comprehensive bundle of liability documents  in support of our client’s claim and instructed a specialist personal injury barrister (Counsel) to advise on the matter in a conference with our client.

Further evidence and information were provided by the police and the conference with Counsel took place. The issue of liability was further analysed. We  considered it would be necessary to obtain expert accident reconstruction evidence in light of the stance adopted by the Defendant. Consequently, we instructed an expert engineer specialising in accident Reconstruction who provided an initial opinion with regards to accident circumstances and liability.

Further applications were made to the police for the bodycam footage and other outstanding information. This was eventually provided along with a statement from the attending police officer. An updated report from the rehabilitation case manager was received and we wrote to the Defendant Insurer again requesting a five-figure interim payment given our client’s serious financial predicament.

The medical report from the instructed Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon was received which confirmed our client’s injuries and a guarded prognosis following her spending 7 weeks as an inpatient at hospital and undergoing 3 separate surgeries in order to obtain adequate stabilisation of the pelvic ring fracture. It was also confirmed, that she continued to experience a pronounced limp when walking and she had been unable to return to driving and domestic duties were limited. The expert stated that by 2 years post-accident our client would have made her maximum improvement and recovery and would continue to have pain and mild stiffness indefinitely. It was confirmed that our client would benefit from ongoing rehabilitation, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, and that an expert in the field of psychology be instructed to provide evidence on her psychological condition. We then instructed a Consultant Psychiatrist to comment upon our client’s psychological injuries and requested a quotation for the surgery recommended by the Orthopaedic Surgeon.

A further medical report was obtained from the Orthopaedic expert after review of additional medical records which confirmed that our client would be left with permanent symptoms in the form of ongoing pain around her lower back and pelvis. It was the opinion of the expert that our client would be unable to be employed in an occupation other than in a sedentary role and her recreational activities would be limited to gentle exercise only, in the form of walks. Our client would also require further surgery to remove prominent metal work which was irritating her soft tissues.

As a result of us putting the Defendant’s insurers under constant pressure they eventually conceded and agreed to release an interim payment for a five figure sum.

Following receipt of the accident reconstruction report, we arranged for a conference to take place with the expert and our instructed barrister to discuss liability. Counsel agreed that our client had good prospects of success but recommended that our client make an offer to settle the issue of liability, recognising her dire financial predicament and a litigation risk (risk of her evidence being rejected by a court). Following this and with our client’s agreement, we made an offer to the Defendant insurer on her behalf to settle the issue of liability on a 85/15 basis in her favour.

The Defendant insurer was pressed for a response to a further interim payment request and the liability offer. They confirmed that the liability offer was rejected and that they wouldn’t make any further payments. We therefore issued Court proceedings against the Defendant.

Reaching settlement

Following the pressure of Court proceedings being issued, the Defendant put forward a ‘without prejudice’ offer to settle our client’s claim for a significant six figure sum. After careful consideration of the offer made, and with Counsel’s input, our client accepted the offer made in settlement of her claim. The settlement was then formalised with a Court order.

Conclusion

This case demonstrates the very high level of specialist experience we have in handling complex liability disputes and how this expertise was key to our client receiving a significant six figure sum despite the Defendant maintaining a robust denial of liability throughout.

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