CPIN Network case results in £1.495m in damages, benefits to referring firm

Ronald Hill v Norside Ltd

Ronald Hill was injured whilst working at a building site on 23 October 2008.  He had been climbing down from a scaffolding platform using an unsecured ladder.  The ladder became unstable and Mr Hill fell causing life-changing brain and spinal cord injuries. With Mr Hill still in hospital receiving treatment for his injuries, his family initially consulted their local solicitors, Kelly & Co, who, through the CPIN network, referred the case to Digby Brown’s specialist Serious Injuries Department.

The defenders denied liability throughout the action on the basis that our client was an independent contractor - he brought two additional men on site, was responsible for the manner in which their work was carried out and he provided his own tools.  Notwithstanding a pre-litigation offer being made, the defenders denied liability throughout and were unwilling to make an interim payment. 

We advised the pursuer to reject the pre-litigation offer and raised an action at the Court of Session. The defenders maintained their denial of liability and a 12 day hearing was fixed for November 2012 on liability and quantum. 

Preparing Mr Hill’s case involved 14 expert witnesses who were instructed for the pursuer.  With few of the experts accepting instructions on a deferred basis, outlays in the region of £45,000 were incurred by Digby Brown Solicitors and Compensate.  Mr Hill did not remember the accident and detailed liability investigations had to be carried out.  In addition to liability and medical evidence, experts had to be instructed to prepare reports on care requirements, accommodation, life expectancy and assistive technology. 

No further offers were made until the Pre-Trial Meeting when quantum was agreed at £1,869,000 net of benefits.  The defenders made an offer to settle the case allowing 50% for contributory negligence on the basis that Mr Hill was an experienced worker.  As we had carried out detailed liability investigations into the case, Senior Counsel’s advice was to reject the offer confident that the client would be better off taking the case to court.

We were then faced with the task of getting Mr Hill to Court. He has a very high level spinal cord injury and needs assistance with all transport.  We organised a private ambulance to take him, his family and his carers from Glasgow to Edinburgh.  We organised accommodation for him, his wife and his carers, and for a hoist and a special mattress to be installed in the room. Arrangements were also made for him to be taken from the hotel to the court on the morning of the Proof by trained medical staff.

As quantum was agreed, the liability evidence was heard over 2 days at the Court of Session.  In her Judgment Lady Dorrian assessed contributory negligence at 20% and awarded Mr Hill damages of £1,495,200.

Not happy with the outcome, the defenders’ agents told us between Christmas and New Year that they were going to mark an appeal. It seemed to us that the defenders were using the prospect of an appeal as a means of negotiating a lower level of damages. The defenders told us that they considered that they had more than reasonable prospects of achieving a favourable outcome at appeal, but that an agreement now would take away the uncertainty for the pursuer and they would organise prompt payment in order to alleviate his financial problems. Despite their original position being they had no liability for this case at all, they made further offers to settle Mr Hill’s with deductions of 40% for contributory negligence and then 30%. 

We considered that Lady Dorrian had correctly assessed the level of Mr Hill’s contribution and, advised him not to accept the offer.  In doing so, Digby Brown and Compensate accepted the risk of proceeding with the case and the expenses of the action. Although wanting the case over, Mr Hill told us “you have been right so far” and “you are the experts and we will take your advice”, his instructions were to reject the offer and to proceed with the appeal.

Conscious that Mr Hill faced a long wait with no prospect of obtaining a large interim payment to allow him to ameliorate his circumstances, we asked the court to grant an application for urgent disposal of the reclaiming motion.  This was granted and the appeal hearing took place in March 2013.  Had urgent disposal not been sought its likely Mr Hill would still be waiting.

Having heard the appeal, the Inner House has issued its Judgment refusing the defenders’ reclaiming motion. In doing so, the Inner House reiterated that it could only interfere with Lady Dorrian’s Opinion in exceptional circumstances and where the Lord Ordinary has manifestly and to a substantial degree gone wrong. Nevertheless, the Inner House further stated that, in its opinion, the Lord Ordinary correctly approached the question of contributory negligence, having regard to the relative blameworthiness and “causal potency” of the acts of the pursuer and those of the defenders. The decision of the Inner House demonstrates the extent to which contractors require to take care for those for workmen whose work they have the responsibility of organising.

Mr Hill’s life will never be the same but, with access to the funding and protection offered by Compensate, and, the knowledge and expertise of a specialist department, he was able to fight his case without compromise.

Gerry Kelly of Kelly & Co, Solicitors said: -

“I have done personal injury work over the years. I think I am quite a good lawyer. But when I was instructed in a high value case  for a client with catastrophic injuries  - and in circumstances where  the issues of legal liability were far from clear -  a natural feeling of trepidation came over me. Worry no longer!  Help was at hand. Digby Brown/Compensate.

When an offer to settle was made of £1 million pre - proof I must admit I might  have been tempted to settle. Glad Digby Brown are made of sterner stuff. They said no.  After proof £1,495,200 with interest at 8% was awarded! 

When an appeal was lodged  against the judgement, and further offer made of £1,310,000, again I might have been tempted  to settle. Digby Brown /Compensate said no. They were willing to take the risk of proceeding further ( and it was them who were accepting the risk  - not me ). Again they were proved right .

My client has now received a substantial amount of money more than he would otherwise have received. I am glad I have joined the Digby Brown /Compensate network.  Reduce your  worries, reduce your stress, get the client a great result and still keep a fee into the bargain."

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