David Knifton KC secures £8m settlement for boy brain-damaged by drowning

May 2, 2023

In a settlement approved by the High Court in Manchester on 28th April 2023, David Knifton KC has secured an award worth over £8m on behalf of a boy who suffered brain damage as a result of a tragic drowning accident.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been taken into local authority care aged 8 as a result of physical abuse by his father, and placed with foster parents in Keighley. Whilst in their care, on Sunday 27th July 2014 he went with older friends to the weir at Tinker Bridge, North Beck, where he jumped into the river but is believed to have struck his head on a stone, becoming submerged for around 10 minutes. Although he was rescued by fire crews and members of the public, before being airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary, he suffered hypothermia and cardiac arrest, causing profound hypoxic ischaemic brain damage.

The case was a rare example of a local authority being held liable for the failings of foster carers, in that it was accepted by the authority that they had been negligent in selecting and monitoring the placement.

After a lengthy period of hospital treatment, the boy returned to live with his mother and family in March 2017. He has been left profoundly disabled by his injuries, with quadriplegic motor impairment and cognitive understanding little more than that of a 1 year-old child. He is totally dependent on others for all his needs, and has a limited life expectancy. A comprehensive 24-hour care package has been in place since he returned to the family home, partly funded by the state and partly by the Defendant local authority, which admitted liability for the tragic accident. He attends a special school, where he has developed some very basic communication skills using eye gaze technology and trigger switches, and enjoys slapstick comedy such as Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean. A recent educational psychology review concluded that he had not yet reached the ceiling of his ability.

The Court was told that the terms of settlement agreed between the parties in February 2023 provide for payment of lump sum damages of £2.75m, with lifetime annual payments of £400,000. The annual payments will ensure that his substantial care, equipment and therapy needs can be met throughout his life, without the risk of funds running out. The lump sum will enable his family to purchase and adapt a suitable bungalow, allowing the family to live together for the rest of his life.

The complex provisions of the periodical payments order were carefully negotiated by David Knifton KC, to ensure that the annual payments keep pace with inflationary increases in care costs, whilst allowing continued statutory funding of part of the boy’s needs.

Commenting on the settlement, David said: “I am delighted to have been able to obtain this substantial award, in order to secure this young man’s future. I pay tribute to his mother and family, who are deeply committed to his care and were rightly described by the judge as “his greatest champions”. Without their dedication and support, I doubt that he would have achieved the progress he has to date. I wish them every happiness for the future.”  

David was instructed by Jagtar Rooprai of Petherbridge Bassra Solicitors, Bradford, and led Rodney Ferm of Broadway House Chambers, Leeds.