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the personal injury and clinical negligence blog

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Daniel v St George's Healthcare NHS Trust & London Ambulance Service: a human rights cautionary tale?

  Daniel v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust  and London Ambulance Service [2016] EWHC 23 (QB) Introduction Edward Bishop QC has successfully defended an NHS trust and the London Ambulance Service against claims under the Human Rights Act 1998 brought by the foster family of a man who died of a heart attack in Wandsworth Prison.  The judgment deals with the legal test for liability, causation and victim status.     The central allegation was that there was culpable delay in the attendance of paramedics caused by nursing error and an insufficiently flexible ambulance triage system.  The judge rejected both allegations on the facts and clarified the law on causation in cases of death in custody from natural causes.  She also dealt with “victim status” under the HRA, ruling that the deceased’s foster mother was entitled to bring a claim but his “foster brother” was not. Background James Best (“JB”) was a prisoner on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Wandsworth when he died from natural causes on 8 September 2011. He suffered a myocardial infarction (a heart attack), as a result of a ruptured plaque in the coronary artery, which caused cardiac arrest and death. He was only 37. He had no previous history of heart disease and it is likely that the plaque was ruptured by over-exertion in the prison gym. The First Defendant (“St George’s”) is a National Health Service (“NHS”) Trust responsible for the provision of primary health care within HMP Wandsworth. Doctors and nurses employed by the First Defendant in the Department of Primary Care at HMP Wandsworth tried unsuccessfully to save JB’s life on the day of his death. The Second Defendant (“the LAS”) is a NHS Trust responsible for the provision of ambulances within the London area. HMP Wandsworth is within its catchment area. On 8 September 2011, an emergency call for an ambulance for JB was made, but he was dead by the time the ambulance arrived. The central allegations were that the nurse who attended on JB in his cell failed to request an ambulance quickly enough, and further that there was unnecessary and unreasonable delay in the dispatch of an ambulance by the LAS. The Claimants had a close relationship with JB which began when the First Claimant fostered JB for 3 years when he was a teenager, between 1988 and 1991. The Second Claimant is the First Claimant’s biological son, and described JB as his foster brother. The Claimants have brought their claim for declarations and damages under the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA 1998”), alleging that the First and Second Defendants, as public authorities, acted in breach of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). Violation of Articles 2 and 3 Mrs Justice Lang set out the appropriate legal test to be applied when considering whether or not there had been a breach. She reiterated the guidance: “I remind myself that the test to be applied is whether the Defendants did “all that could reasonably be expected of them to avoid a real and immediate risk to life of which they have or ought to have knowledge” (Osman at [116]). In Rabone, Lord Dyson considered that an “immediate” risk was one which “present and continuing” (at [39]). He added, at [43]:   “The standard required for the performance of the operational duty is one of reasonableness. This brings in “consideration of the circumstances of the case, the ease or difficulty of taking precautions and the resources available”; per Lord Carswell In re Officer L [2007] 1 WLR 2135 , para 21.   The ECtHR and the domestic courts have emphasised that the operational duty must not be interpreted in a way “which imposes an impossible or disproportionate burden on the authorities” (Osman at [116])”   On causation, and having considered the evidence, the test was: “the legal test of causation is whether there was a failure to take reasonably available measures which could have had a “real prospect of altering the outcome”. Put another way, the Claimants have to establish that JB “lost a substantial chance of avoiding the outcome”.”   The court heard extensive evidence, not just from the actual persons involved in the immediate aftermath, but also from medical experts who gave evidence on the chances of survival following such a heart attack. Careful consideration was given to transcripts of the 999 call-outs, and the exact timing of those calls. The criteria and policy of the ambulance service was scrutinised.   Mrs Justice Lang was emphatic in her dismissal of the claims of breach. She did not consider that the “Claimants have succeeded in establishing, on the balance of probabilities, that, even if [the nurse at the prison] had called an ambulance earlier, or LAS had dispatched an ambulance sooner, that there would have been a “real prospect of altering the outcome” or that JB “lost a substantial chance of avoiding the outcome”.   As for the claims brought under Article 3, the Judge said: “The claim under Article 3 was unarguable, in my view. [the prison nurse] acted promptly, reasonably and professionally and did all she could to save JB’s life. There was no unreasonable delay in calling an ambulance. The LAS handled the emergency call in accordance with their procedures which were required to ensure that a limited resource of emergency vehicles and personnel were allocated fairly within the community according to priority need. ” It certainly did not amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.   Victim status   Both Claimants brought claims alleging that they were “indirect victims”. Mrs Justice Lang considered the law on victim status, and set out the relevant test:   “In my judgment, the likely approach of the ECtHR in determining the status of the Claimants in this case would be to consider all the facts and circumstances to assess: ·       1. the nature of the legal/family relationship between the Claimants and JB; ·       2. the nature of the personal ties between the Claimants and JB; ·       3. the extent to which the alleged violations of the Convention (1) affected them personally and (2) caused them to suffer; ·       4. involvement in the proceedings arising out of JB’s death.”   On applying that criteria, she was satisfied that the first Claimant was a indirect victim as she had been JB’s foster mother for three years, leading to a longstanding parent-child relationship. JB had no other family of his own, and shortly before his death referred to himself as the first Claimant’s “third son”. Not only this, but the first Claimant had clearly suffered from acute distress following JB’s demise, and had been extremely active in the aftermath of his death.   However, the second Claimant was found not be an indirect victim. The status of “foster brother” is not recognised in UK domestic law or in ECtHR case law. There can be no question that the second Claimant suffered hugely from the loss of a close friend; but this alone is not a sufficient basis on which to found a claim.   The claims were dismissed.

T’is the season to be techie ….!

This is the time of year for families …. and for gadgets. Lots of them! In particular, smartphones. An average 65% of children in the UK aged between 8 and 11 now have their own smartphone.   This figure rises to 90.5% in Newcastle making it the smartphone capital of the UK for children. This compares with 55.2% in London and only 40% in Brighton and Hove.   All this and more is contained in a survey by Internet Matters (www.internetmatters.org) which also revealed that 72% of parents will have bought tech gifts for their children this year.   For those looking forward to getting back to drafting or responding to schedules of aids and equipment in the New Year the challenge is to wise up and become more e-savvy about equipment claims in 2016.   Also out before Christmas was the latest statistical bulletin from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) (www.ons.gov.uk) on families and households in the UK in 2015.   As a result, those grappling with accommodation claims in 2016 may need to reconsider some of the assumptions often made in schedules and counter schedules, for example, that a person will cohabit throughout his or her life and about the likely age at which a person is likely to leave home.   Although in 2015 in the UK there were 12.5 million people living in a married or civil partner couple family and a further 3.2 million living as a cohabiting couple family there were also 7.7 million people in the UK in 2015 living alone. The largest change – and, according to the ONS, one that is statistically significant - is in people aged between 45 and 64 where the number living alone has increased by 23% between 2005 and 2015.   In 2015 around 40% of young adults in the UK aged between 15 and 34 were still living with their parents. In 1996 around 5.8 million people aged between 15 and 34 in the UK lived with their parents. This figure increased to a peak of 6.7 million in 2014 and has remained at around 6.6 million in 2015.   Looking forward, Christmas wish lists are likely to continue to be dominated by tech gadgets and devices. However, in 2016, at least for parents, the focus may be less on paper chains and party games and more on parental controls and privacy settings.   A Happy New Year to all our readers!

Top personal injury decisions of the Court of Appeal in 2015

The Court of Appeal has made a number of important decisions in 2015 in the field of personal injury. As the year draws to a close, Ella Davis and I review some of the most important of them for the PI practitioner. They cover psychiatric damage, causation, quantum, the Athens Convention, jurisdiction, duties of care, vicarious liability and non-delegable duties... Psychiatric Damage Liverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Ronayne [2015] EWCA Civ 588 was a case of a claimant claiming damages for psychiatric injury consequent on seeing the condition of a loved one brought about by the negligence of a defendant. Of the four requirements for recovery, the decision focused on whether C’s illness had been “induced by a sudden shocking event.” Three issues were at the heart of the case: (1) whether C had suffered a recognised psychiatric illness, (2) Whether there had been “an event” and (3) how “shocking” the event must be. Edward Bishop QC provided a masterly analysis of this and other decisions in the 1 Chancery Lane October 2015 PI Briefing. In brief, C’s wife became extremely unwell due to the negligence of D. C claimed he had suffered psychiatric injury as a result of the shock of seeing his wife’s sudden deterioration and appearance in hospital. The CA confirmed that courts should pay close attention to diagnostic criteria, that whether an event is ‘horrifying’ must be judged by objective standards and by reference to persons of ordinary susceptibility and that for an event in a hospital to be ‘shocking’ required something “wholly exceptional in some way so as to shock or horrify”. It also considered what was meant by an ‘event’ and ‘sudden’ finding that C had not been exposed to one event (“a seamless tale with an obvious beginning and an equally obvious end”) but a series of events with no “inexorable progression”. What had happened was not sudden, it had not caused an “assault upon the senses” but at each stage C had been conditioned for what he was about to perceive. Causation Reaney v University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust  [2015] EWCA Civ 119 was considered on this blog in a posting by Ella Davis “Quantity not Quality”. She rightly observes that the decision brings clarity to the law rather than any new departure. The CA considered causation in a case where a patient was a paraplegic requiring a care regime (due to non-negligent causes) but due to the negligence of D causing pressure sores, her care needs were increased. The question was whether D caused all her care needs or whether D was only liable for those needs less the needs which she would have had but for the negligence. The key issue was whether the pre-existing care needs were qualitatively different from those caused by the negligence or whether they were merely quantitatively different. The CA found they were only quantitatively different and therefore D was only liable for C’s increased care requirements. In future parties will doubtless pay careful attention to whether losses are qualitatively or quantitatively different as a result of negligence adding to a pre-existing condition. Causation and the Burden of Proof Graves v Brouwer [2015] EWCA Civ 595 concerned a house fire of unknown cause. Mr Brouwer set fire to a small bundle of papers in the passageway next to his house. Very shortly afterward the roof of his neighbour’s house caught fire. The experts agreed that the chances of an ember from the papers travelling to the eaves of the building and starting a fire were very low but, absent arson, were unable to come up with a more probable cause. The judge rejected arson as fanciful and found that, while the flying ember theory was scientifically improbable, the Claimant succeeded on causation. The Court of Appeal overturned her decision saying she had failed to ask herself the ultimate question whether the flying ember theory was more likely or not to be true. The fact that no other possible causes were identified, in large part because there was no investigation at the time, did not make it more probable than not the fire was caused by a flying ember. As Roderick Abbot observed in his blog post “Sherlock Holmes in the Court of Appeal”, the exercise is not one of identifying the least unlikely cause. The Claimant had failed to discharge the burden of proof and that was all the judge was required to find. Quantum Billett v Ministry of Defence [2015] EWCA Civ 773 concerns how courts should assess damages for loss of future earning capacity in circumstances where the claimant suffers from a minor disability, is in steady employment and is earning at his full pre-accident rate. Should the court follow the traditional Smith v Manchester approach or should the court use the Ogden Tables, suitably adjusted? C suffered from a minor Non Freezing Cold Injury (“NFCI”) which had a substantial impact on his day to day life in cold weather. The condition had less impact on his work as a lorry driver than it had on his leisure activities. The judge found that his loss of future earning capacity should be assessed by using Ogden Tables A and B, suitably adjusted, not by applying Smith v Manchester.  The CA upheld his decision that C had a minor disability clarifying that where a court considers whether an injury substantially limits a claimant’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, the enquiry should be directed at what the claimant cannot do rather than what he can do. The CA overturned the judge’s decision to use the Ogden Tables: unadjusted they produced an unrealistic future loss; adjustment however was a matter of broad judgment which was no more scientific than the approach in Smith v Manchester. The judgment still leaves open the question when a disability becomes serious enough to engage the approach in Ogden Tables A and B and when and how those might be adjusted.  However as Andrew Spencer said in his blog on this case (Loss of future earnings and disability) the case is strong authority for retaining the Smith v Manchester approach in cases of minor disabilities with little effect on the claimant’s chosen career. Athens Convention In South West Strategic Health Authority v Bay Island Voyages [2015] EWCA Civ 708 the CA considered two issues relating to the Athens Convention (which governs personal injury to passengers at sea). The first was whether it extended to claims against carriers for contribution to liability of others and the second was the effect of the time bar prescribed by the convention. Dr Feest was injured in a boating accident in the Bristol Channel. The carrier was Bay Island Voyages (“BIV”). Dr Feest’s first firm of solicitors failed to issue against BIV within the 2 year time limit under the Convention and so she sued her employer SWSHA on the basis the accident occurred in the course of her employment. SWSHA joined BIV who successfully applied to have the Part 20 proceedings struck out. The Court of Appeal found that the provisions of the convention were not directly applicable to SWSHA’s claim against BIV. It also found that the time bar in Article 16 did not extinguish the cause of action but only barred the remedy: this was critical for SWSHA’s contribution claim as, if the limitation provisions had extinguished the right to bring the claim, under the provisions of the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 SWSHA could only have brought a claim within 2 years of the accident. Ian Miller, who represented SWSHA with John Ross QC, blogged on the case: “Contribution, limitation and the Athens Convention.” Jurisdiction Brownlie v Four Seasons Holding Incorporated [2015] EWCA Civ 665 involved the application of the Canada Trust gloss and a novel question about where damage in a tort claim was sustained. C bought an off package excursion in Egypt in which her husband was killed and she was injured. She booked the excursion by making a telephone call in England to the concierge at the hotel in Egypt. After the accident she brought proceedings in the High Court in contract and tort. She brought three tort claims (1) in respect of her own injuries; (2) as a dependant of her husband and (3) for the loss suffered by her husband’s estate. On appeal the court of appeal, applying the Canada Trust gloss – which is well set out and explained in the judgment - found that there was a good arguable case as to the identity of the defendant and as to whether the contract was made in England. This was not novel point of law: it was merely a finding that it was likely that C had called the concierge with proposals and he had accepted them. Given a contract for an excursion is made at the place where the words of acceptance are received, the contract was made in England. The novel point of law considered by the CA was the question of whether damage was sustained within the jurisdiction for the purposes of C’s claim in tort. This is the requirement of paragraph 3.1(9)(a) of the Practice Direction 6B (the tort gateway) for permission to serve out of the jurisdiction. The CA held the jurisdictional gateway should be interpreted consistently with Rome II and therefore the country in which the damage occurs should be the country where the injury was sustained regardless of the country in which the indirect consequences could occur. Thus the Claimant’s personal claim and the claim on behalf of the estate should be brought in Egypt. However, the dependency claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 was not properly described as a consequential loss it was an independent loss and so the Claimant had shown a good arguable case that English law should apply to this claim. Matthew Chapman who appeared in this case with John Ross QC has blogged on it here. Duties of care and mental impairment In Dunnage v Randall [2015] EWCA Civ 673  the Defendant (“V”) was a paranoid schizophrenic who poured petrol over himself and ignited it, injuring his nephew the Claimant. V’s mental state was agreed to be grossly impaired. On a spectrum between completely healthy volition and absent volition he was at least 95 per cent impaired and probably 100 per cent absent volition. A number of helpful points arise from the three lengthy judgments given. First, the court rejected any need to differentiate between mental and physical impairment. Second, a person with a mental impairment owes a duty of care. Third, the standard of care should not be adjusted to take account of the personal characteristics of the Defendant, it is purely objective. Fourth, only Defendants whose attack or medical incapacity has the effect of entirely eliminating any fault or responsibility for the injury can be said not to have broken their duty of care. The Claimant’s appeal was therefore allowed. Interestingly the court noted that insanity is a defence in crime because criminal law is punitive whereas the function of the law of tort is to compensate victims. Vicarious Liability In Graham v Commercial Bodyworks Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 47  the court had to determine whether an employer was vicariously liable for the acts of an employee who sprayed a co-worker’s overalls with thinning agent and then set them alight causing him considerable injury. Having looked at the Canadian authorities in sex abuse cases, the court considered that the starting point was to examine whether there was a close connection between the creation or enhancement of a risk by the employer and the wrong that accrues therefrom. In this case the employers created a risk in requiring their employees to work with paint thinners but there was not a sufficiently close connection between that risk and the wrongful act. The wrongful act did not further the employer’s aims and it was not related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer's enterprise. Where the employment does not require the exercise of force and there is no inherent friction, intentional conduct in the workplace, whether horseplay or more serious acts, will not normally give rise to vicarious liability. Vicarious Liability and Non-Delegable Duties The Court of Appeal in NA v Nottingham County Council [2015] EWCA Civ 1139 held that a local authority was not vicariously liable for the abuse of a child by the foster carers with which it placed her, nor did it owe her a non-delegable duty to protect her from harm. The relationship between the local authority and the foster carers was not sufficiently akin to one of employment to give rise to vicarious liability. On the issue of a non-delegable duty all three members of the court of appeal gave different reasons summarised in our November 2015 PI Briefing. In brief, Tomlinson LJ held that the local authority had discharged rather than delegated its duty in placing the child with foster carers. Burnett LJ held that what the Claimant sought to do was to expand the common law imposing a strict duty on local authorities on the basis that foster parents were not always able to satisfy a claim. Black LJ held that it would not be fair just and reasonable to apply such a duty; in fact it would be unreasonably burdensome and potentially harmful if it led to over cautious practice.  

Autumn Statement for PI Lawyers

The government has released a summary of the Autumn Statement with 20 Key Announcements, the last of which will be of great interest to personal injury lawyers. It reads as follows: “20. People will no longer be able to get cash compensation for minor whiplash claims To make it harder for people to claim compensation for exaggerated or fraudulent whiplash claims, the government is ending the right to cash compensation. More injuries will also be able to go to the small claims court as the upper limit for these claims will be increased from £1,000 to £5,000. This means that annual insurance costs for drivers could fall by between £40 to £50 a year.” George Osbourne anticipates these changes “will remove over £1bn from the cost of providing motor insurance” and expects insurers to pass on that saving to consumers. There had already been speculation over the last week that the government was going to introduce its previously shelved plan to increase the small claims limit for personal injury claims when the insurance fraud taskforce reported next month. What is surprising though is the reference to “ending the right to cash compensation”. It is as yet unclear what it meant by this. Footnote 55 to the Autumn Statement gives some clarification by explaining that “Claimants will still be entitled to claim for ‘special damages’ (including treatment for any injury if required and any loss of earnings) but entitlements for general damages will be removed.” It will be interesting to see though how it will be decided that a case falls into the category in which there is no entitlement to general damages. Elsewhere in the Autumn Statement is a statement that the government will reduce the excessive costs to insurers of whiplash claims by “removing the right to general damages for minor soft tissue injuries”. This would seem to cover more than just whiplash injuries. There may also be interesting arguments where multiple injuries are involved. These problems are unlikely to be straightforward and may result in substantial argument, inevitably using court time. It seems likely we will have to wait for the report of the insurance fraud taskforce, due before the end of the year, for further details.  Keen readers who can’t wait until then might be interested in the research briefing published in advance of last Wednesday’s debate in Parliament. Otherwise, watch this space!

Stroke Caused By Beauty Facial Case Settles

Claims against negligent beauticians and the like are not altogether uncommon. The injuries tend to be dermatological in nature consequent of some allergic reaction to an untested product. But who would have thought it possible, let alone likely, for someone to suffer a stroke as a result of a beauty facial treatment? Tragically that is what happened to Elizabeth Hughes after her visit to the spa at the Eastwell Manor Hotel. What should have been a weekend treat resulted in a serious stroke that left her disabled for life. Her claim, which otherwise would have been tried in the High Court this week, settled for an undisclosed amount. How did it happen? The medical experts on both sides were agreed that the stroke occurred as a result of a dissection to the carotid artery. The dissection was in all probability caused when beauty cream was massaged onto the sides of her neck by the beauty therapist. The issue was whether she was negligent or had applied an excessive degree of force. Unlike sports injury or deep tissue massages, where there are reported cases of stroke, this was a novel situation. This type of injury had not been encountered previously by beauty therapists. Mrs Hughes who was employed by the NHS as a nurse was left significantly disabled. Her disabilities prevented her from returning to employment in the nursing sector. The case has been watched closely by the beauty industry and the press. (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/nurse-disabled-stroke-after-allegedly-6798935) Elizabeth Hughes was represented by Edward Bishop QC and Kiril Waite at 1 Chancery Lane, instructed by Ciaran McCabe at Moore Blatch Legal Resolve.

Quantity not quality

The decision of Foskett J in Reaney v University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust  [2014] EWHC 3016 (QB) (rightly) caused some excitement in the legal blogosphere when it was handed down in October 2014. It appeared that he had extended the familiar eggshell skull rule by holding that a Defendant who had injured a woman with pre-existing care needs was liable to compensate for her full care needs not just the additional needs. That decision has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal [2015] EWCA Civ 1119  who draw a useful distinction between qualitatively and quantitatively different care needs. The Facts Mrs Reaney, was admitted to hospital in December 2008 with transverse myelitis. As a result she was permanently paralysed below the mid-thoracic level and classified as a T7 paraplegic. It was common ground that this was not caused by any negligence. As a result of a prolonged hospital stay she suffered pressure sores. It was admitted that this was caused by the Defendant’s negligence. As a result of the transverse myelitis she was always destined to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. It was found that but for the development of the pressure sores, the Claimant would have required some professional care, increasing as she got older. But as a result of the pressure sores and their resulting complications, she would require 24/7 care from 2 carers for the rest of her life. The Decision of Foskett J Foskett J with reference to Paris v Stepney Borough Council [1951] A.C. 367 held at ¶69 that while a Defendant is only liable to compensate for damage which he has caused or to which he has materially contributed, where he has made the Claimant’s position substantially worse he must make full compensation for that worsened condition. He therefore concluded that she was entitled to full compensation for all her care, physiotherapy and accommodation costs, including the care she would have required but for the negligence. The Decision of the Court of Appeal This conclusion was firmly rejected by the Master of the Rolls who held at ¶18 that the tortfeasor must compensate for the condition in which the Claimant finds herself only to the extent that it has been worsened by the negligence. The rule that a Defendant must take his victim as he finds him is, as the Defendant had argued before Foskett J (¶53), sometimes to a Defendant’s disadvantage and sometimes to their advantage. A Defendant who injures someone with a pre-existing vulnerability, such as the famous eggshell skull, is liable for the full loss flowing from his negligence. However, in this case, it was right that the loss should reflect that the Defendant had injured a T7 paraplegic who already had significant care needs. In fact before the Court of Appeal it was, perhaps surprisingly, common ground between the parties that if the Defendant’s negligence gave rise to substantially the same kind of care and other needs as her pre-existing needs, then the damage caused by the negligence was only the additional needs. However, if the care needs flowing from the negligence were qualitatively different from the pre-existing needs, then those needs were in their entirety caused by the negligence. This view was endorsed by Dyson MR at ¶19. The Claimant’s unsuccessful case on appeal was, therefore, that Foskett J had found the care needs arising from the tortious act to be qualitatively different and so there was no need to disturb his overall conclusion. The Master of the Rolls dealt with the question raised as to the position where there was no means of recovery of the underlying loss. He was firm that the ability to recover for the underlying loss was irrelevant and that a person can only ever be liable for the loss they have caused. Comment At first blush the Court of Appeal’s decision appears to have brought welcome clarity. Foskett J’s judgment, while perhaps giving an attractive result, was not easy to reconcile with the earlier authorities. However, as shown by the point taken by the Claimant before the Court of Appeal, it leaves open significant scope for argument as to when a care need is qualitatively different from pre-existing needs. Those advising both Claimants and Defendants will in future cases of this sort want to scrutinise carefully the differences between the care packages and be ready with arguments as to why those differences should be found to be qualitative or quantitative as appropriate. Finally, as unattractive as this result might seem, there is still nothing to stop a court applying the principle in Paris v Stepney Borough Council and making a higher award for PSLA to reflect the fact that the consequences of injury may be substantially worse for an already injured person.

Loss of future earnings and disability

A claimant is “disabled” for the purposes of Tables A – D of the Ogden Tables when s/he has an illness or disability which has or is expected to last for a year or more (or a progressive illness); which “substantially limits” the claimant’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities; and which affects the kind or amount of paid work s/he can do.   In Aderemi v London and South Eastern Railway [2013] ICR 591 Langstaff J explained that considering a “substantial adverse effect” required looking at what the claimant cannot do. Once s/he establishes an adverse effect that is “more than minor or trivial”, the test is met. This test was endorsed by the Court of Appeal in the recent case of Billett v Ministry of Defence [2015] EWCA Civ 773.   This is a relatively low threshold for disability, and the spectrum of people falling within that definition is extremely wide. At one end of the scale are claimants like Mr Billett, who, though disabled, secured work as a lorry driver with virtually no hindrance. How should tables A – D be used in such a case?   The Ogden Tables make clear that the court is entitled to make an adjustment to the reduction factor in appropriate cases and there are a number of examples of courts doing so (eg Conner v Bradman, Sharma v Noon, Hindmarch v Virgin Airways). The Ogden Tables also recognise that there will still be some cases where a Smith v Manchester award – rather than a substantial award for future loss of earnings – remains appropriate.   This is exactly what the Court of Appeal did in Billett v Ministry of Defence – which Jackson LJ described as a “classic example” of a case where the Smith v Manchester approach should be followed. There were three reasons:-   The claimant was at the outer edge of the spectrum of disability: the judge found he only just met the definition. The disability affected the claimant’s career much less than his activities outside of work. Because of these factors, there was no rational basis for determining how the reduction factor should be adjusted.    The Court of Appeal substituted the judge’s loss of earnings award with a Smith v Manchester award of 2 years’ earnings.   Thus the Court of Appeal have endorsed a flexible approach to future loss of earnings for disabled people: where the claimant is firmly inside the spectrum of disabled people, and where the disability has a significant impact on the claimant’s chosen career, Tables A – D will be a “valuable aid” – and should be the subject of adjustment as appropriate. It is open to argue the adjustment should be to increase the award for future loss of earnings, rather than to decrease it. But Billett provides strong authority for retaining the Smith v Manchester approach in cases of minor disabilities with little effect on the claimant’s chosen career.

Fixed costs in RTA, EL and PL multi track claims

A claim which starts under the RTA protocol but proceeds on the multi track remains subject to the fixed recoverable costs regime. So held HHJ David Grant in the case of Qader v Esure (Unreported, 15th October 2015). The case concerned a claim for damages for personal injury arising out of an RTA. The value of the claim was pleaded at £5,000 to £15,000. The Defendant alleged that the accident had been staged by the Claimant and the claim was allocated to the multi track. At a CCMC a district judge ordered that “CPR 45.29A fixed costs will apply to the claimant’s costs. Costs management does not apply to this case.” The Claimant appealed. CPR rule 45.29A is to be found in Section IIIA of Part 45, which is entitled "Claims which no longer continue under the RTA or EL/PL Pre-Action Protocols - Fixed Recoverable Costs". Paragraph (1) provides as follows: "Subject to paragraph (3), this section applies where a claim is started under (a) the Pre-Action Protocol for Low Value Personal Injury Claims in Road Traffic Accidents ("the RTA Protocol"); or (b) .... the EL/PL Protocol but no longer continues under the relevant Protocol or the Stage 3 Procedure in Practice Direction 8B." The judge found that the text of this rule is clear and states that section IIIA of Part 45 will apply when a claim is started under the RTA Protocol but no longer continues under that protocol or the stage 3 procedure set out in the Practice Direction 8B. The Claimant argued that the district judge’s ruling breached Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights as claimants' solicitors would not be willing to risk expending substantial sums in costs without certainty of recovery and would be unwilling to act on a ‘no-win no fee’ basis with such uncertainty. HHJ David Grant rejected this argument saying that the provisions of CPR rule 45.29J provided a material safeguard against such injustice. That rule allows the court in exceptional circumstances to allow costs greater than the fixed recoverable costs at the end of proceedings. The judgment of HHJ David Grant is well-written, compelling and seems right on the rules as they have been drafted. Many claims start out on the EL/PL and RTA protocols but are subsequently moved to the multi-track when it becomes clear that there are much more complicated issues and that the value might be more than originally anticipated. The rules and this judgment are likely to have far-reaching consequences although the provision in the rules for fixed costs to include 20% (RTA claims) and 30% (EL/PL claims) of the damages may go some way to mitigating the harsher consequences in claims which start out as low value but end up as high value. Stuck between the Scylla of paying very high court fees and the Charybdis of a fixed costs regime for a claim which starts under the relevant protocols, claimants’ solicitors will want to exercise great caution. Whether the rule committee intended or foresaw all of this is open to question.

Contribution, limitation and the Athens Convention

In South West Strategic Health Authority v Bay Island Voyages [2015] EWCA Civ 708 the Court of Appeal considered the scope of the Athens Convention and the nature of the time-bar in Article 16. In coming to its decision, the Court also considered sections 5(1) and 5(2) of the Carriage by Air Act 1961. In the main action, Dr Feest claims damages for personal injury arising out of an accident which occurred whilst she was a passenger on board The Celtic Pioneer in the Bristol Channel. Her original solicitors missed the two-year time limit for bringing claims under the Athens Convention against the carrier ('BIV'). She issued proceedings against her employer ('SWSHA') one day before the expiry of the three-year time limit under section 11 of the Limitation Act 1980. SWSHA brought a claim for contribution against BIV which was struck out by the district judge. His order was upheld on appeal.  The first issue for the Court of Appeal was whether claims for contribution are encompassed by Article 14 of the Convention which states “no action for damages for the …personal injury to a passenger… shall be brought against a carrier…otherwise than in accordance with this Convention.” On appeal, HHJ Havelock-Allan QC held that Article 14 encompassed contribution claims ([2014] EWHC 177 QB). The Court of Appeal disagreed. The Athens Convention only claims to unify ‘certain rules relating to the carriage by sea of passengers and their luggage’. It is not a complete code and does not encompass contribution claims which are autonomous and derive from the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978. In reaching this conclusion the Court looked at Australian, US and Canadian cases on the equivalent provisions under the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions. The Court of Appeal then considered the nature of the time-bar under Article 16. The importance of this is that SWSHA would not have had a claim for contribution against BIV under the Contribution Act if the effect of Article 16 was to extinguish the cause of action rather than bar the remedy. The Court found that the effect of the words of Article 16 in the light of Financial Services Compensation Scheme Limited v Larnell (Insurances) Limited (in liquidation) [2006] QB 808 (which considered the similarly-worded section 14B of the Limitation Act 1980) was to bar the remedy – unless there was an international consensus upon the understanding of the provision. The Court looked at the French text and concluded that the natural meaning of the French words was to bar the remedy. This understanding was also consistent with language (‘Verjaehrungsfrist’) used in the German Commercial Code. Accordingly Article 16 operated to bar the remedy and not extinguish the cause of action and therefore SWSHA’s contribution claim survived. In reaching their conclusion on Articles 14 and 16 the Court of Appeal also looked at section 5(1) and 5(2) of the Carriage by Air Act 1961 which incorporates the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions into UK law. Of note is its comment that section 5(1) provides a time limit for actions against carrier’s servants or agents, which actions are not themselves within the scope of the Warsaw Convention. John Ross QC and Ian Miller of 1 Chancery Lane acted for the successful appellant.

Insurers’ proposals for further reform to the PI sector

The Association of British Insurers' website recently set out its top 10 insurance and savings priorities for the next parliamentary session. The most striking of these for personal injury lawyers is the proposal for “Modernising the civil justice system to get compensation to claimants rather than lawyers.” The ABI fleshes this out by suggesting increasing the small claims track limit for PI claims, considering a reduction in the current 3-year limitation period and using fixed legal fees to address the rise in industrial deafness claims and ensuring people suffering from asbestos related conditions get compensation quicker. Another of the ABI proposals which would also affect the PI sector is a proposal for “Cracking down on the behaviour of Claims Management Companies” by requiring them to comply with a more robust regulatory regime and stopping nuisance calls and texts. Some consider that pressure from the insurance industry played an important role in bringing about some of the reforms which occurred in the last parliament. The themes in the proposals are familiar and are not new. Indeed the last government consulted on some of these matters. However the ABI clearly wants to keep these issues on the agenda and it will be interesting to see what pressure is exerted in the next parliament for further reforms which could have far reaching consequences for PI lawyers and litigants. The whole list can be viewed on the ABI Website