Claimant who had his leg amputated following a minor accident at work can recover damages for the consequences of a second incident which confined him to a wheelchair; the chain of causation was not broken. Mr Spencer was employed as a shunter-driver by Wincanton. In March 2000 a collision with his stationary tractor unit caused his right knee to strike a bolt on the steering column. The knee remained painful and eventually an above-knee amputation was carried out in February 2003. Liability was not in dispute. It was accepted that the amputation was as a consequence of the original accident. He made a good recovery and was fitted with a prosthesis, but this could not be worn whilst driving until his car was adapted. On 14 October 2003 whilst at a Sainsburys’ petrol station, and not using his prosthesis or his sticks, he caught his foot against a raised manhole cover and fell, causing damage to his left leg, permanently confining him to a wheelchair. At first instance whilst Sainsburys were found not liable for the 2003 accident, Mr Spencer was found one third contributorily negligent in this regard. The key issue on appeal was whether Wincanton should avoid damages for the injuries arising out of the fall at the petrol station on the basis that the chain of causation had been broken.
Held: The Court of Appeal considered that the apportionment of blame in respect of the 2003 accident spoke clearly against a finding either that Mr Spencer acted recklessly or that it was unfair to find the chain of causation had been broken by his actions. Like the amputation, the fall was, on the Judge’s findings, an unexpected but real consequence of the original accident, albeit one to which Mr Spencer’s own misjudgement contributed. Accordingly, Mr Spencer was entitled to recover damages for two-thirds of the consequences of the 2003 accident.
Comment: Defendants and their insurers are often faced with claims where an unwise or risky act on the part of a claimant in an ongoing personal injury action results in the aggravation of his injuries. This case provides guidance on the test the courts will use to decide whether the claimant’s damages are to include the aggravated element of the injury. The decision is a reminder to defendants and their insurers that there will be a high burden on them to show that the actions of a claimant have been so reckless, as to break the chain of causation.
It is interesting to note that the Defendant’s insurers had taken the view that, with a stoical Claimant who was determined to rehabilitate himself as far as he could, their best course lay in assisting him to do so and not settling too soon. It was unfortunate for them that, on this occasion, delay in doing so has resulted in a much more significant claim.