In Reaney -v- University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 1119 the Court of Appeal considered the appropriate approach to the award of damages when injuries are caused to a claimant who, prior to the defendant’s negligence, was already seriously disabled.
“At para 70 of his judgment in the present case, Foskett J said that, if a tortfeasor makes the victim’s current damaged condition worse, “then he (the tortfeasor) must make full compensation for that worsened condition”. If by that the judge meant that the tortfeasor must compensate for the condition in which the victim finds herself, he was wrong to do so. He must compensate for her condition only to the extent that it has been worsened by the negligence.”
The claimant, aged 68, was paralysed below the mid-thoracic level. This injury was not due to any negligence on the part of the defendant. Whilst hospitalised she suffered pressure sores that led to permanent damage. This led to increased care needs.
- In a case where the claimant was disabled prior to the defendant’s negligence act the task of the court is to assess the additional needs caused by the defendant’s negligence.
- It was wrong to attribute the entirety of the claimant’s care needs to the defendant’s negligence in a case where she had significant care needs which pre-dated the negligence
THE DECISION OF THE JUDGE AT FIRST INSTANCE
At first instance the judge found that in the absence of the negligent treatment “Mrs Reaney would have been able to spend her waking hours out of bed in a standard wheelchair which she would have been able to self-propel. She could have undertaken a few basic household tasks. She would have been able to get out and about, doubtless with family support and supervision. She would inevitably have been doubly incontinent, but her bowel management would have been better than it now is and she would not have required a urethral catheter which she now requires.”
THE JUDGE’S FINDING ON CARE
The judge found that the claimant’s care needs had been significantly increased. Consequently the judge awarded damages on the basis of all her future care needs.
THE FINDINGS OF THE COURT OF APPEAL
The Court of Appeal accepted the defendant’s main argument that the damages should be assessed on the basis of the extent to which the claimant’s care needs were increased by the negligence.