On the 30 December 2008 at the age of 67, the Claimant experienced a sudden onset of back pain with weakness in her legs.
She was admitted to the A & E Department of Stafford Hospital and following an MRI was transferred to North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary the same day having been diagnosed with transverse myelitis.
This is a rare inflammatory condition causing damage to the spinal cord which arose spontaneously in the Claimant’s case, and unfortunately rendered her paralysed below the mid thoracic level permanently.
As a result of an extended period of hospitalisation, the Claimant developed a number of deep pressure sores which led to infection of the bone marrow, shortening of the muscle tissue in her legs and a hip dislocation.
The Claimant was always to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, but the issue in this case was to what extent the pressure sores and the consequences of those pressure sores made her condition worse than it would have been but for their development, and what damages should be paid as a result, in particular in respect of care.
The Defendants accepted liability for the development of the pressure sores.
The Claimant had a past medical history of smoking, asthma, obesity, breathlessness and she had a history of problems with her neck and left shoulder.
As a result of this history, the Defendant’s case was that the Claimant would not have been able to transfer herself from bed to a wheelchair, even if she hadn’t developed the pressure sores. The Claimant’s expert disagreed with this view and stated that but for the pressure sores, the Claimant would have been able to transfer herself for at least a period of time (up to the age of 70).
The Court found from the Claimant’s medical records that at the time of her admission to hospital, she did not have any ongoing left shoulder problems such that she could have managed independent transfers, but for the development of the pressure sores. The records also suggested that the Claimant herself was keen to improve and for treatment so that she could be as independent as possible despite her condition.
Therefore, having considered the evidence, the Court found that but for the negligently developed pressure sores, the Claimant would have had a much better quality of life – she would have spent her waking hours out of bed in a wheelchair which she would have been able to self propel. She would have been able to undertake a few basic household tasks, get out and about, and her bowel and bladder management would have been better. The Court rejected the argument that but for the pressure sores, the Claimant would have required a carer 24/7 in any event.
Both medical experts however recognised that as the Claimant aged, her need for care would have increased.
As a result of the pressure sores and the consequent shortening of the muscle tissues, the Claimant was left in a “windswept” position – she falls to the left if unattended. The Claimant requires 24 hours care. She can sit in a wheelchair for four hours at the most, and needs to be repositioned in the night,
The Court was of the view that but for the pressure sores, the Claimant would have required no more than 7 hours of care per week up until the age of 70 thereafter she would have received gradually increasing visits from one local authority carer.
This case emphasised the principle that a tortfeasor must take his victim as he finds them – the court awarded full compensation for the worsened condition of the Claimant. In this case, the Defendant’s negligence had made the Claimant’s position materially and significantly worse than it would have been but for that negligence. She wouldn’t have required the significant care package that she now requires.
PSLA was awarded at £115k.
The parties had sought guidance as to how quantum should be considered based upon the “but for” scenarios advanced by each side, and the other heads of damage were left outstanding to be decided amongst the parties pending this decision of the Court.