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Case Study: Paraplegia Caused by Complete Spinal Cord Injury at T2/T3 Vertebrae
CP was awarded £6.65m
"Committed, honest, open-minded, listened, constructive, driven...phenomenal!"
- Family's praise for JMW's team handling this case.
JMW secured a £6.65m settlement for a child who suffered a severe spinal injury resulting in paraplegia after a car accident.
About the accident
CP, a minor, was involved in serious car accident. CP’s mother was the driver of the vehicle containing her four children. Tragically, the eldest child was fatally injured, another suffered a moderately severe brain injury, another significant orthopaedic issues and CP suffered a complete Spinal Cord Injury at T2/T3, rendering her paraplegic.
JMW’s initial conduct of the case
This case was transferred to JMW as a result of the family’s dissatisfaction with their previous lawyer. Andrew Lilley, Partner, took over conduct of the case. At this stage, CP was 10 years old and it was not clear whether CP would become independent in many aspects of self-care, including transfers.
A care regime was already in place when we took the case over, although the defendants were very critical of the extent of care being provided. We ensured that the package was adequate for CP’s needs, regularly liaising with CP’s parents and the case manager on the matter and importantly ensuring that we had the proper evidence to justify the defendants having to pay for the extensive regime. CP was a child when the accident happened, and was expected to live into her 70’s so it was vital that we took a holistic approach to CP’s case, including consideration for CP’s future career possibilities, and her lifelong requirement for medical equipment, accommodation, hydrotherapy, care and transport needs. It was important that we recognised these needs would vary throughout CP’s lifetime, and our conduct of the case took that into account.
It was not appropriate for us to consider settling CP’s case until CP’s likely future level of independence became clear. The case had already been running for 6 years when we first met the family and they had been under incredible stress. We had a consultation with one of the leading spinal consultants in the country from Stoke Mandevile, who felt able to indicate with a reasonable degree of certainty of what level of independence CP could reasonably expect to achieve. We therefore were able to deal with the defendants and the court process to ensure that the legal proceedings were managed to allow the case to move towards settlement while the defendant continued to fund the substantial care regime.
Meeting CP’s needs – adapting the family home:
CP’s previous solicitor had previously overseen work to try to ensure the purchase of a new family residence appropriately adapted so that CP was able to access all areas easily. Unfortunately however, significant problems had arisen in the building work, raising questions as to the appropriateness of the purchase, adaptation and supervision. Once Andrew took over the case, he ensured that appropriate independent experts reported on CP’s accommodation requirements and with the family and experts, provided a comprehensive forecast as to what CP’s accommodation needs would be in the future, and how these should be catered for.
Whilst property adaptation is clearly an important factor in any case of CP’s magnitude, an additional complication in CP’s case was the family’s location, as they lived in a remote area that required significant travel to reach. Andrew geared part of the compensation award towards enabling further adaptations to be made to the family home, so that CP’s ongoing needs could be metand provision for live-in carers could be made. He also included a claim to account for the likelihood that CP was likely to choose to move to a less remote area once in adulthood, and would therefore require appropriate building work to be undertaken on a new property, and would incur additional purchase costs.
We also included a claim for a hydrotherapy pool to assist CP with mobility and reduction of her leg spasms, which in turn would assist in transfers and provide CP with a greater level of independence.
A holistic approach – ensuring CP can live a normal life
CP and her family had undergone a horrific experience, we know that we had to take a holistic approach; considering every aspect of CP's life. This included dealing with the local authority resolving problems CP has had with access and equipment at and managing the switch from primary to secondary school. It has also been important to support CP’s desire to learn to drive at 16 and obtaining the appropriate resources to facilitate this.
Along with CP’s case manager, we were very conscious that the cohort of spinal cord injured children is very small, and as a result, it has been vital to CP’s wellbeing that a positive dialogue between CP, the family, CP’s nearest specialist spinal injuries unit, local medical support, CP’s school and sundry experts was maintained.
Naturally, the support provided to CP also included provision for several intensive rehabilitation sessions at the nearest spinal injuries unit, ranging from two days to two weeks. These assisted in improving transfer techniques from wheelchair to bed and wheelchair to car, bladder and bowel self-management and a concerted effort to reinstate a habit of CP standing in swivel walker and develop confidence in the pool. All of these activities have had the ultimate goal of making CP more independent, fit and healthy, and enabling CP to live as full a life as possible.
Unfortunately CP does still have regular severe leg spasms and assistance from carers helps CP to control the extent to which these affect her life. The difficulties faced by CP mean that she has not attained the level of independence that most SCI patients with an equivalent level of injury could expect. It was important to highlight this and ensure that CP obtained the level of compensation that reflected these needs.
However, although we made the case that CP requires sleep-in carers to assist with catheter change and any evening emergencies, CP’s care regime has been geared to give CP the highest possible level of independence. This has ensured that CP has been able to enjoy many of the pursuits that a young person would choose to engage in during childhood and adolescence; shopping and socialising with friends, attending the cinema, playing computer games and having friends over to visit.
Resolving CP’s legal case
As discussed, it was not appropriate for us to pursue settlement of CP’s case until the experts had formed a view as to CP’s likely level of independence. However, once this was evident, we still faced significant issues in the resolution of CP’s legal case. The defendant’s medical experts maintained that CP was very close to being independent on transfers. The experts we had instructed on CP’s case provided information on CP’s spasms, weight issues and also some recurrent wrist and shoulder pain, which demonstrated that CP was clearly not as independent as the defendant’s medical expert believed, and we believed that CP would require lifelong 24-hour care.
Naturally, the difference of opinion between the medical experts meant a significant amount of negotiation and discussion for both parties to reach a stage where a satisfactory settlement could be achieved.
We held a Joint Settlement Meeting with the defendant in spring 2011. The defendant’s representatives walked out of the meeting after we suggested their offer of £5m was significantly too low, but later contacted us to make an offer of £5.5m. We rejected their offer as we felt it was still far too low. We obtained a great deal of extra evidence from CP’s care team, treating and medical experts and CP’s case manager to support CP’s position and medical requirements throughout the course of CP’s life.
We went on to prepare the case for a Trial on CP’s behalf. Before the Trial was due to take place, the defendants requested mediation. This meant that each side would discuss the matters at hand with the mediator, who would act as a go-between between the two legal teams and help each of them understand the other’s case. The mediator would also express views as to what the court would be likely to find. After hours of negotiation at the mediation, we eventually settled CP’s claim for a lump sum of £6.65m. A very high level of damages for someone with CP's level of injury.
This settlement figure included elements for private medical treatment where NHS services may be inadequate, cutting edge medical treatment not yet in contemplation, and purchase of two properties to allow for a move to a less remote area (both with hydrotherapy). Our goal was to ensure that CP will be able to live as full and healthy a life as possible, empower her to be independent and to set life goals and targets, which is something that we and the family believe has been achieved.
The family were delighted with the settlement and at having brought the case to a conclusion after 11 years. CP’s father has praised our work, with some very kind words:
“The hard work and commitment of Andy has been premier league. If I had a question, it was listened to, understood and explained. Everything was revisited, I was never left with questions on my mind, and everything was clear and concise. They never shied away from issues, but never pushed us. Everything they have done has been first class, they had always done their homework, always had a plan, no second measures, everyone in the team knows their role and they are just very good at what they do.”
[Andrew’s team were] “Professional in everything they did, always communicated clearly, took control of everything, it was a lot of weight off my shoulders, when he took over it was a huge relief. I always had confidence that if I ever needed anything he would get back to me ASAP”
“His commitment is second to none, what he has done is made someone’s life better through his hard work…..had he not had the skills he did, where would we be now? He deserves an award.”
When asked to describe our best attributes, CP’s father said: “committed, honest, open-minded, listened, constructive, driven…I could go on?. What would I say is…phenomenal”.