David Knifton QC secures £6.4m settlement in paraplegia claim

June 29, 2020

Following a JSM conducted last week by video-link, David Knifton QC has secured a settlement worth almost £6.5m on behalf of a young man who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident in 2015.

The Claimant ran his own business, as well as engaging in very active leisure pursuits and regular foreign holidays. As a result of the accident, he suffered a fracture dislocation of his lower spine, which left him with permanent paraplegia. Despite extensive rehabilitation, he was largely wheelchair-dependent. To his immense credit, he was determined to remain as active as possible, participating in wheelchair sports and track events. He had also enjoyed a number of holidays abroad, with considerable assistance from friends, and wished to continue to do so.

The Claimant had initially instructed a firm of solicitors with limited experience in catastrophic injury claims. They had agreed to the joint instruction of a number of experts, including an assessment of the Claimant’s care needs which suggested that he required no support other than a domestic cleaner in the medium term, 3 hours’ care per day after age 60, and 6 hours per day in the last few years of life.  Based on that evidence, they were about to engage in settlement negotiations in 2018 with a schedule of loss which valued the claim at just £2.3m.

Fortunately, the Claimant realised that his claim was not being adequately presented. As a result, he engaged leading spinal cord injury specialist Cathy Leech at Irwin Mitchell, who instructed Exchange Chambers’ David Knifton QC in place of counsel previously retained. They immediately disengaged from the joint instruction of the lead experts, and assembled a new team. Not surprisingly, that led to a substantial re-valuation of the claim, including a careful review of the Claimant’s life expectancy, his potential earnings from a growing business, his support needs, therapeutic and equipment requirements, and the additional cost of enabling him to pursue his holidays and leisure activities.

A particular difficulty in the case was how the Claimant’s accommodation needs would be met. It was agreed that he required a bungalow, but after failing to find a suitable property, the Claimant purchased a plot of land, on which he intends to build a suitable bungalow, converting existing outbuildings to provide a hydrotherapy pool, garage and carers’ accommodation. The costs involved in doing so, however, far outweighed the cost of buying and adapting an existing bungalow. The difficulty was compounded by the fact that the hearing of the appeal in Swift v Carpenter had not yet commenced, and its outcome remained uncertain.

Following lengthy negotiations at a JSM in June 2020, settlement was agreed in the total sum of £6,375,000. The terms include provisional damages, enabling the Claimant to seek a further award in the unlikely event that he develops a syrinx leading to significant neurological impairment in the future. The award included over £3m for future care costs, recognising that, in addition to current support and case management costs of around £38,000 per annum, he would need live-in care from around age 55, and 24-hour care in the last 5 years of life.  Over £500,000 was included for accommodation costs, in addition to a significant contribution to the costs already incurred in purchasing the plot. Additional holiday costs were agreed at an average figure of £5,000 per annum over the Claimant’s lifetime.

Commenting on the award, David Knifton QC said: “This case illustrates the fundamental importance both of understanding the needs of the individual client and securing the best evidence, regardless of the fact that the case is unlikely to end up in court.  Had this case been settled on the basis of the expert evidence originally obtained, the Claimant would have been substantially under-compensated.  Fortunately, he realised just in time the need to instruct lawyers with specialist expertise in catastrophic injury cases, enabling us to secure the evidence required to establish the true value of his claim. I am delighted that we were, as a result, able to achieve an award which enables him to continue his active lifestyle for as long as possible, whilst ensuring that his needs will be fully met as his condition deteriorates in later life.”

Cathy Leech added: “It is always satisfying to settle a case when the client is delighted and reassured he can now live the life he wants without worrying. When we took this case over, the Claimant was a few weeks away from a settlement meeting on the basis of a case which was woefully ill-prepared.  It is horrifying to think he could have settled the matter for far too little having relied on a firm he had been told were experts.  I was delighted we could remedy this situation.”

David Knifton QC was instructed by Cathy Leech, Partner at Irwin Mitchell LLP.