Reddy v Bates

Judgment Date01 January 1984
Neutral Citation1983 WJSC-SC 3454
Docket Number[S.C. No. 199 of 1982]
CourtSupreme Court
Date01 January 1984

1983 WJSC-SC 3454

Griffin J.

Hederman J.

McCarthy J.



Subject Headings:

DAMAGES: assessment


JUDGMENT delivered on the 29th day of July 1983by GRIFFIN J. [HEDERMAN CONCURRING]


In this action which was tried before Mr. Justice D'Arcy and a jury damages amounting to £551,354 were awarded to the plaintiff. The trial was confined solely to damages and the defendant has appealed against the award of damages on the ground that the damages were excessive. The learned trial Judge broke down the questions into appropriate headings and the jury assessed damages under the followingheads:-


1. Special damages to date:


(a) Items agreed (other than for dental treatment)£41,404


(b) For dental treatment £950


2. General damages to date £100,000


3. Special damages for the future:


(a) Loss of earnings £144,000


(b) Cost (if any) of house-keeper £115,000


4. General damages for the future £150,000TOTAL: £551,354.


The argument on the hearing of this appeal was confined to questions 2, 3 and 4.


The plaintiff's claim arose out of an accident which occurred on the 4th June 1979 when she was a passenger in a car being driven by her sister and a collision occurred between that car and a car the property of the defendant. The plaintiff suffered injuries which by any standard were very severe. She suffered severe damage to the brain stem, and considerable damage to the upper part of the brain and was unconscious for upwards of three weeks. She was admitted as a patient to St. Lawrence's Hospital (the "Richmond") on the evening of the accident but fortunately she did not need surgery as there was no sign of bleeding within the head. She was unaware of her surroundings for approximately eight weeks, and although she remained in that hospital for an additional four weeks she has no recollection of having been in that hospital at any time. She was then transferred to the National Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire under the care of Dr. Gregg, the director of the Centre.With the exception of two weeks at Christmas 1979, when she stayed with her family, she remained in Dun Laoghaire until May 1980. Although she had then made considerable improvement having regard to the extreme severity of the original injury, she had become extremely incapacitated physically due to a condition which is quite uncommon. It appears that the nerve impulses from the brain stimulated the tissues in an unusual fashion and the tissues reacted by forming bone - she had formed new bone around her left hip joint and right elbow. She stayed with her sister in Cheshire from May 1980 until August 1980 when Mr. Sheehan, the well-known orthopaedic surgeon, operated on her in St. Vincent's Hospital. This was a major operation requiring removal of the growth of bone from her left hip but this was followed by a further production of new bone. There was another operation in Cappagh Hospital, also performed by Mr. Sheehan, in November 1980, this time to her left knee. This was successful in that she was able to obtain a full straightening of the knee and to bend the knee almost to a right angle.


With regard to the right elbow Mr. Sheehan considered that there was no point in surgery in the light of the experience with the lefthip, and the right elbow became fixed in a significantly bent position (approximately 90°). In May 1981, Mr. Sheehan performed a further major operation for the purpose of realigning her left leg to enable her to net both legs on the ground and this enabled her subsequently to stand upright and regain her balance and ultimately to walk.


By the beginning of September 1981 she was able to go with her sister and brother-in-law on holidays to San Francisco, and while there to go on excursions by train, by plane and by boat. She remained with her sister in the United States until the middle of October 1981. No words of praise for this sister, and indeed for the other members of her family, would be too high for the efforts they made to assist the plaintiff in her rehabilitation.


Sometime after the return from the United States a flat was purchased for the plaintiff in Dublin as she was anxious to live alone. However she can only look after herself to a limited extent - she can do very light housework and light cooking, but as she is somewhat unstable on her feet she needs some help to keep an eye on her generally and to do the heavier type of housework and cooking. She could not, for example, safely lift a boiling pot of water off a cooker,handle hot dishes, or bend down to take a hot dish out of an oven. At the time of the trial, her brother and his fiancee had been living with the plaintiff in this flat for approximately six months and they were looking after her.


At the time of the accident the plaintiff was twenty four years of age. She was employed by the PMPA Insurance Company Limited as a clerk and evidence was adduced from the personnel manager of that company that if she had still been employed by them at the time of the trial she would be earning approximately £7,340 per annum. On the question of the plaintiff's ability to work, there was a considerable volume of expert evidence called on behalf of the plaintiff, which may be summarised as being to the effect that due to her difficulty in concentrating and the impairment of her memory, together with her physical incapacity, she would not be capable of gainful employment on the open market and that, in effect, she would be unable to work again. For the defendant, a leading neurosurgeon and a leading psychiatrist gave evidence, and their evidence may be summarised in this way - she should be capable of some work, such as work in a shop, provided she could pace herself, but she would have difficulty by reason of her physical disabilities in travellingto work. According to them, she herself was anxious to do some work, and it would be very good therapy for her.


In relation to the household assistance which the plaintiff would require in the future, a witness was called from the National Manpower Service, the effect of this evidence being that a housekeeper for five days would cost approximately £130 per week and for a relief housekeeper for the remaining two days approximately £40 per week, making £170 per week in all. The defendant's case on this issue was that the reality is that it was exremely likely that the plaintiff's family, who are a very close-knit family, would continue to look after her, and that, at best, assistance only on a part-time basis would benecessary.


It is against this background that the question must be considered as to whether all or any of the four items in dispute, namely, the loss of earnings, the cost of a house-keeper, the general damages to date, and the general damages for the future, are excessive. It is well settled that this Court cannot set aside the verdict of a jury on the grounds that the damages are excessive unless, adopting a view of the facts which is most favourable to the plaintiff, no reasonable proportion exists between the amountawarded and the circumstances of the case - see M'Grath v. Bourne, I.R. 10 C.L. 160; Foley v. Thermocement, 90 I.L.T.R. 92. Applying this standard, the amount of damages awarded in this case, namely£551,354, is in my opinion excessive - and this is not to minimise the gravity of the injuries sustained by the plaintiff. In assessing the damages, the jury were required to consider the evidence, not only with sympathy and understanding for the plaintiff, but also with fairness to both the plaintiff and the defendant, as the administration of justice is not a one way operation. Counsel on behalf of the plaintiff submitted that the plaintiff's condition was as bad as is that of a paraplegic. I cannot agree. But even if it was, the amount awarded for general damages(£250,000) is considerably in excess of any sum awarded in any case that has come to this Court even for a paraplegic or aquadraplegic.


We have been invited by both the plaintiff and the defendant to assess the damages rather than send the case back for a retrial and it is necessary therefore to consider each of the four items of damage indispute.

Loss of earnings

Loss of earnings Under this heading the jury were required to assess theprospective value of the earnings which, if uninjured, the plaintiff would have been likely to earn. It has been decided by this Court in many cases over the past twenty years that where future loss of earnings, or a likelihood of regular necessary payments for medical, hospital or other expenses, form a substantial element of the plaintiff's claim, an actuary should give evidence. That was done in this case and Mr. Reddin, who is a well-known actuary practising in Dublin, gave evidence on behalf of the plaintiff. His evidence establishes that the present value of £100 per year to age sixty is £1,606, to age sixty five is £1,684, and for life is£1,812. In calculating the present value of £100 per year the actuary allows for the possibility of death, using standard mortality tables, having regard to the sex of the plaintiff, and allowing for changing interest rates. Using the figure given for age sixty five as a multiplier, the loss suffered by the plaintiff on that basis would be £123,000 odd. This figure would not, however, and does not take into account the marriage prospects of the plaintiff. Nor does it take into account any risk of unemployment, redundancy, illness, accident or the like. It assumes that the plaintiff, if uninjured, would have continued to work, week in and week out, until retirement and would have in effectguaranteed employment, at a constantly increasing annual rate of wages, until retirement or prior death.


When actuarial evidence first came into regular use in cases such as this in our courts,...

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