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Brain injury sustained following collision with high voltage power cable

We acted for Mr M, who was employed by British Telecommunications plc (“BT”) as a repair hoist operative.

On the day of the accident, he was instructed to assist a colleague who was attempting to identify a reported fault in the network at a rural location in East Sussex.  Whilst using a mobile elevated work platform (also known as a “MEWP” or cherry picker) to access a high level telephone line, Mr M’s head came into contact with a high voltage power cable.

He suffered severe multiple injuries including a seizure at the scene, electric shock and cardiac arrest, burns, a closed brain injury, compression fractures to his vertebrae, prolapsed disc and psychiatric symptoms including depression and anxiety.

He required resuscitation at the scene and, due to his enduring symptoms, he was unable to return to work.

In any event, he and the colleague were dismissed by BT for gross misconduct, with BT alleging that they had been working in an unsafe manner at the time of the accident.

Mr M initially instructed trade union solicitors to deal with his personal injury claim, but after BT denied liability, the union solicitors advised that the case did not have sufficient merit for them to continue acting for him and withdrew their retainer.

Shortly before the three year limitation deadline, Mr M’s treating neuropsychiatrist recommended he approach our firm for a second opinion.  We accepted instructions on a conditional fee agreement basis (‘no win, no fee’) and immediately issued protective court proceedings.

Following service of proceedings, BT continued to vigorously defend the case.

Matters were complicated further as the claimant’s condition deteriorated during the course of the case and we were advised that he no longer had capacity to litigate.  A litigation friend needed to be appointed.

Mr M always accepted that he made an error of judgment which contributed to the accident.  However, we argued that the principal cause of the accident were the errors made by his employer and the colleague with whom he was working at the time.

After a three day High Court trial before Mr Justice William Davis, the judge found that BT was liable for the accident, subject to a reduction of one third to allow for Mr M’s contribution.  The judge found that BT had trained Mr M, but was in breach of its statutory duty by communicating significant changes to the way engineers were to safely work in close proximity to high voltage power cables through electronic documents rather than in more effective face to face training.  Furthermore, BT provided only cursory follow-up training alongside other unconnected training, which prevented the changes from being properly understood or absorbed.

As the issue of liability was dealt with as a preliminary issue, the parties then turned to quantum proceedings.

Whilst it was agreed that Mr M sustained a serious personal injury, the precise nature and extent of that injury was not agreed.

Mr M’s case, in broad outline and based on the evidence of the experts we instructed, was that he had sustained a hypoxic brain injury and he lacked capacity to conduct litigation or manage his financial affairs.  Accordingly, he required an extensive support  regime and the supervision of a professional deputy of the Court of Protection.

His brain injury symptoms included impaired memory, changes in personality, impaired concentration and the constant need for prompting.

The defendant contended that Mr M did not sustain any brain injury.  Any ongoing effects, and the extent of which were not admitted, were a psychiatric response to the accident, rather than brain injury.  Accordingly, they were amenable to treatment.  This would have the consequential effect of substantially reducing the support that he needed and the damages recoverable.  The defendant even argued it was possible that Mr M would return to work.

The defendant also sought to argue that the claimant did have capacity to litigate.

About three weeks before the assessment of damages hearing was listed to commence, the parties attended a joint settlement meeting.  Whilst we did not reach an agreement at the JSM, some progress was made in negotiations and, the following week, the case was compromised for a sum of £1.1m.  That figure took into account the deduction for one third contributory negligence and therefore represented a gross valuation of £1.65m.

As Mr M was a protected party, we attended a protected party approval hearing, and the judge agreed that the proposed settlement was reasonable and in Mr M’s best interests.

The case was conducted by Graham Bell and Oliver Chapman, both of whom specialise in traumatic brain injury litigation.

If you would like to ask Graham Bell or Oliver Chapman a question about a potential case, or if you have a general query about any personal injury, contact Graham Bell at Thomson Snell & Passmore solicitors on 01892 701358 or Oliver Chapman on 01892 701234 in confidence. We offer no win no fee agreements on the vast majority of our clinical negligence and personal injury cases.

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