Phillip Coburn, a Solicitor with Burd Ward recently acted for a young man who was awarded damages of £5.85million, following a catastrophic brain injury when he was thrown across a room by his birth mother as a baby.
At a hearing under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, the Tribunal was told that the child fractured his skull when his head struck the wooden arm of a settee, but his mother failed to seek medical attention for a further 4 days. By the time he was admitted to Hospital, he was suffering from the effects of an extensive brain injury, which had left him profoundly disabled, with significant physical and learning difficulties, together with severe behavioural problems. He was incapable of independent living and would require lifelong 24-hour care and support.
Having been taken into local authority care, the child was later adopted by a selfless and loving family. Aged 20 at the date of the hearing, the Applicant attended a college course and centre for adults with learning difficulties, in order to develop his independence and social skills.
As a result of the head injury the child sustained profoundly severe diffuse brain damage which affects all aspects of his physical, intellectual, communication and behavioural abilities, as well as producing overall and major handicap. The difficulties can be summarised as follows:
- Profound intellectual and emotional impairment, with very severe learning difficulties, such that he functions at the approximate mental level of a 5 year-old child
- A very short attention span
- Relatively mild right-sided hemiplegia, such that his dexterity is poor, he is unable to oppose his fingers to his thumbs on either hand, he has difficulty with any bilateral hand function, and has developed a preference for using his left hand
- He walks on tiptoes with an unstable gait, and tends to trip and bump into obstacles, his mobility difficulties being exacerbated by his visual deficits
- Severe visual problems consequent upon the brain damage, with a convergent squint, loss of binocular vision and depth perception and extensive loss of his visual fields, such that he is registered as partially-sighted, and causing significant difficulties with many daily tasks and with mobility, leading him to bump into obstacles and to be at risk of falls on stairs and uneven surfaces
- His speech is unmodulated, repetitive and inappropriate, and becomes difficult to understand when he is excited
- He has epilepsy, although this is no longer a significant problem, as it was previously controlled with medication.
- He exhibits severe behavioural problems, with outbursts of frustration, aggression and self-harm, together with obsessive traits, attention-seeking and low self-esteem, resulting in his causing damage to the family home and injuries to himself and others, particularly if he undergoes any change in his normal routine
- He has poor bladder and bowel control, with associated urinary infections
- He sleeps poorly, and frequently demands attention during the night
- He has no sense of danger, and is unable to go out unaccompanied.
The injuries are permanent. He is incapable of independent living and requires lifelong 24-hour care and assistance with activities of daily living. Although he is able to feed himself with a fork or spoon, he is dependent on others for most activities of daily living, including support when walking, bathing and dressing. He relies on a clear daily structure and routines, finding deviation from them very stressful. He requires suitably-adapted accommodation, and a range of aids and equipment, including transport, appropriate to his needs. He lacks capacity to manage his own affairs and will never be capable of employment. He will have limited insight into the nature and extent of his difficulties but will be aware that he is different from others. His life expectancy is probably reduced by around 7 years, due to the risks associated with impaired bladder function and behavioural problems.
From a legal point of view this was an extremely interesting and complex case, and it is thought to be the highest award from the CICA for this type of case. From a personal point of view it was heart wrenching to see the damage caused to the child, yet heart warming to see the love and care show to him by his adoptive family. The substantial compensation awarded will help look after the Applicant for the rest of his life which is very comforting to know.