Monday, 26 January 2015

Stewarts Law: calculating compensation for clients with spinal cord injuries

In our last week as a guest post writer for SIA, this article outlines the considerations the court take into account when assessing the level of damages. We share the story of how damages were assessed in the case of three backpackers in Australia, securing financial peace of mind for them in the context of an international claim.

At the outset of working together with a client, we provide them with a broad assessment of the likely damages they will receive. Each case is decided according to the severity of the injury and the needs of the particular individual. Every case will be different.

The English courts attempt to put the claimant, in so far as is possible, in the position that they would have been, had the accident not occurred.

Damages can be awarded both for the injury itself and for current and future costs and financial losses. These may include loss of earnings, the cost of care, suitable and adapted housing, equipment and medical expenses.

As specialists in spinal cord injury, we not only represent our clients in court if needs be, but we also strive to help them with every legal issue that arises. Our exclusive focus on serious injury claims has enabled us to deliver exceptional client service. Our lawyers appreciate that the demands of those with spinal cord injury differ from those with lesser injuries.

We handle one-fifth of the number of cases handled by most other personal injury lawyers, thereby ensuring a high level of service. Over the last three years, the firm’s Personal Injury department has concluded more than 200 cases, recovering an average of over £2 million for each client.

We successfully concluded a claim on behalf of three young Britons who were seriously injured in a tragic accident whilst travelling in Australia. They joined a group of other young travellers on a self-drive off-road trip around Fraser Island in Queensland. The Toyota Land Cruiser Troop Carrier they were travelling in was being driven along a beach by another young British man when he swerved to avoid an oncoming wave and rolled the vehicle.

Two passengers died in the accident and others sustained a variety of serious injuries, including spinal cord injuries. S suffered incomplete paraplegia, R suffered orthopaedic and internal injuries and C suffered a spinal fracture and the bereavement of a close friend who was killed in the accident.

All three instructed Julian Chamberlayne of Stewarts Law to bring claims for personal injuries against the driver of the vehicle and the Australian insurer of the jeep. This was prompted by Julian's unique specialisation in representing those seriously injured in overseas accidents, including representing the spinal injured claimant in the landmark House of Lords decision in Harding v Wealands.

Julian swiftly obtained an admission of liability from the Australian insurer, although technical evidence reconstructing the accident was required to analyse issues relating to the effectiveness of the lap-belts fitted to the jeep in a high speed roll-over accident like this one.

The case had two substantial hurdles to overcome to achieve what we felt was an appropriate level of damages for our clients. By using our in-depth knowledge of international law, we advised S, R and C to bring their claims in the English courts, even though the accident occurred overseas.

The first hurdle to overcome was establishing jurisdiction in English court and English-applicable law, when the accident had occurred in Australia and the vehicle, activity organisers and insurers were Australian. The two hooks we used to establish English jurisdiction included the fact that S, R and C were residents of England and the driver of the jeep was from Liverpool.

This crucial decision enabled them to recover at least 30% more compensation than they would have done in Australia. In the early stages of the High Court proceedings, the Stewarts Law team then successfully negotiated settlements with the Australian insurers and their lawyers based on English legal principles.

The second complex issue was establishing the loss of earnings. Both S and R had first class economics degrees, but had not yet started full time work at the time of the accident. We commissioned reports from investment banking experts to calculate the long-term impact of the serious injuries they sustained on their likely careers in the financial services sector.

S commented: 'The entire team at Stewart's Law left no stone unturned when it came to ensuring I received the correct level of damages after suffering such horrific personal injuries. In fact, their efforts completely exceeded my expectations. I can now happily move forward in my life with the knowledge and confidence that all my current and future needs will be more than adequately met.'

We ensured that future loss of earnings was taken into consideration alongside the more apparent losses at the time. This forensic attention to detail, both in terms of reconstructing factual events for courts to make fully informed decisions and in assessing the needs of our clients both now and in the future, helps us to achieve robust outcomes.

For more in-depth information on the legal challenges faced by English claimants injured in Australia and beyond, please click here for the article.

More information about Julian Chamberlayne, Partner in our Travel Department at Stewarts Law who specialises in overseas personal injury litigation and led S, R and C’s cases can be found here.

Read more about our work with SIA here.

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