Living as we do, in an age of compensation culture, when there are thousands of cases weekly, of people seeking to redress their grievances and find someone to blame for their mishaps and disasters, it is an impossible task to identify the ten biggest cases. The list would differ for the USA and the UK: a global top ten would involve impossible comparisons. Inflation and the passage of time quickly erode any claim to be the biggest for there will always be a bigger claim and payout in the future. Thus, the ten cases that Vannin Capital have listed below have been chosen to offer topical interest, to include some typical, medical negligence claims, examples of group and individual actions and are taken from a mix of UK and USA cases for ease of language and accessibility.
This case has been chosen as an example of compensation for injuries incurred in a motor accident. Like so many car accidents, it left its victim severely brain damaged and paralysed. It reflects that although monetary compensation is achieved, no amount of money ever redresses the damage done to a victim and his/her family. In this case which finally settled in 2010, although the accident had occurred four years earlier, the girl was awarded £17.5million, which represented the highest to date Personal Injuries payout in a UK court. The award reflected the loss of a promising sporting and academic future and as the judge said, it was a complex legal case but at its foundation “a human tragedy”. The mother expressed gratitude that her daughter had financial security for the rest of her life, which had been calculated as £300,000 per year of the award.
This is just one case from the ever-growing number of clinical negligence cases that are brought against the NHS. It reflects the complexity and longevity of such cases. The £4.6 million payout awarded to Shane Barrett in 2011 came seven years after his disastrous birth in 2004. Mid-wife error had meant that the mother’s heart was monitored rather than the distressed baby’s; he was born severely brain damaged with severe cerebral palsy and requires round-the-clock care. The Hospital Trust responsible settled pre-trial.
Cases involving the sexual abuse of children have been much in the news recently; all have been horrific and harrowing. How can any amount of damages compensate such victims? The judge in the 2012 award of £1 million against Essex County Council to the four abused children expressed this sentiment: “No amount of money can really compensate for the emotional, physical or sexual abuse suffered in childhood”.
Children and their families were again the victims of the famous Thalidomide drug disaster. This case contains many common characteristics of compensation for defective medical products. It involved a large group action. It has proved to be protracted and even though the first settlement was reached in 1968, these are still being revised to allow for inflation and on-going medical needs. Initial damages were awarded against the drug company. In the 1970’s a further £28 million was paid out and further revision in 2005 saw annual payouts reach a staggering £6.5 million. The complexity of liability also extended to damages being paid by the Government, negligent of adequate drug regulation. In 2012 these amounted to £80 million.
Compensation cases for victims of faulty breast implants are yet to be settled but promise to run to millions. At least 50,000 claims are expected in Britain, but the scale will be global and damages are expected to be at least £1 -200,000 per case. Again the complexity of the claims should prove interesting. Medical Negligence will probably be only a small aspect; others include breaches of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 and the Consumer Protection Act 1985. The amount of damages may differ depending whether the transplants were done privately or on the NHS. A further complication is that the manufacturer of most of the faulty implants, PIP, has already gone into liquidation. This is one to watch!
Compensation payouts for internet/data protection related cases also look set to escalate. One early case that was viewed as a landmark shows how payouts quickly look dated and puny. In 1997 Internet Service Provider, Demon, had to pay damages for defamatory postings about an individual. The damages of £15,000 were deemed ground-breaking at the time. (The claimant also won legal costs of £200,000 – always an integral part of assessing any damages.) Recent cases of cyberbullying suggest that there may well be a plethora of claims against websites and ISP’s. No doubt that future damages are likely to be well in excess of £15,000.
Ruinous repercussions from much awaited holidays have led to atsunami of claims against tour companies, hoteliers and restaurateurs et cetera. One example at Whistler ski resort resulted in two fatalities and ten disabling injuries in a chairlift accident. The case took five years to settle, during which the lift manufacturer went bankrupt. The ski area operator finally agreed to a payout of £13 million, settling pre-trial.
The rapid growth of China this decade warrants inclusion of the next cases, showing the importance of government standards (or lack of them) in these important areas of personal injury and product liability. In 2009 EU regulations had banned the use of the fungicide dimethyl fumarate in consumer products. However, no such regulation existed in China, where it was incorporated into leather sofas which were imported and caused painful blisters, sores, eye complaints and breathing difficulties to the 1650 victims who pursued a claim for damages. Total damages awarded were £20 million, and individual payouts varied between £1200 and £9000.
This also arose from the unregulated Chinese economy. Dry-wall insulation boards were used in numerous housing construction projects in USA. These contained the toxins hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. Medical symptoms of claimants included sore throats, breathing problems, headaches and insomnia. At the first trial damage payouts were $2.6 million. In addition to medical compensation the damages included gutting and clean-up costs and compensation for falling property values.
This is contemporary; July 2013 saw the award of a staggering $58 million to an individual, the victim of being beaten up by a bouncer, outside a bar in California. His injuries were horrific – loss of 25% of his skull, loss of speech and left in need of 24 hour medical care. The damages were against the security firm employing the bouncer. This final case reflects the human tragedy behind many of these compensation payouts. It also reflects the astronomical costs of care for disabled individuals. The award calculated $35 million for pain and suffering already endured, $11.5 for future pain and suffering and $11.5 million for future medical costs.
Compensation claims will continue to be brought as individuals and groups use the courts to redress perceived injustices and to simply go on existing in extreme injury cases. Such claims will get bigger and they will be increasingly global. The legal costs will also escalate. Most claims are funded on a contingency or conditional fee basis. No win, no fee will continue to finance US cases. In the UK recent legislation (see LASPO Act) has led to new regulations for costs and the impact of Damage Based Awards has yet to be seen. Claims referral firms have already gone out of business and PI lawyers are concerned about their practices and the securing of claims for their clients. Nothing stands still in the world of compensation law.