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Claiming For Injuries When Already Injured

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The 2014 case of Reaney v University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust explored the issue of negligence in relation to additional injuries caused to an individual who was already injured. It is a helpful example of how the courts are likely to approach the award of damages in such cases.

Facts of the case

The claimant arrived at hospital with back pain and leg weakness and was eventually diagnosed with transverse myelitis. This caused damage to her spinal cord and rendered her permanently paralysed below her mid back. During a prolonged stay in hospital, the claimant developed several deep pressure sores which caused further complications including a bone marrow infection, contracting of muscle tissue in her legs and dislocation of her hip, which she claimed was due to negligence on part of the defendant. The court had to decide whether her situation was made worse than it would otherwise have been ‘but for’ the development of the pressure sores. If it was the court had to go on to decide what damages could be claimed.

The approaches of the claimant and the defendants

The claimant and the defendants had fundamental differences in their approaches. The claimant argued that its claim should be decided on the basis of the care she was actually provided with before the negligence occurred. The defendant admitted liability but it argued that its liability should be limited to meeting the additional care needs of the claimant that would not otherwise have been required in the absence of its negligence. It argued that because of the paraplegia, the claimant was already in a position that required significant care and support which should not be covered by it.

Court reasoning and decision

The court applied the legal principle that the party that caused the harm had to take the victim as it found her and fully compensate her for the deterioration in her circumstances. In its view the defendants’ negligence had materially affected the claimant’s circumstances and made them worse than they would have been but for that negligence.

This case demonstrates that to injure someone who is already injured is as serious as it is to injure someone who is not injured at the start. In such cases a simple ‘topping’ up approach cannot be applied. The judge underscored his decision with a proposition from earlier tort cases that a person losing an eye or an ear is bad, but if they then go on to lose a second eye or ear and they are rendered completely blind or deaf then the consequences are devastating.

For specialist advice about making or defending clinical negligence claims contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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