A court has dismissed an appeal by a hospital Trust who argued that the subsequent needs of a patient who suffered severe physical injury as a result of medical negligence were “substantially the same kind as pre-existing needs” and, therefore, the damage caused by the negligence should be termed as “additional needs”.
A 61 year old woman diagnosed with a nerve inflammation disorder which attacks the spinal cord, was left disabled but still able to lead an “independent” life. Prior to her admission to several Trust hospitals, her care needs were met by the provision of a few hours of care each week, which would increase after 75 years of age.
However, during her various hospital stays, and as a result of admitted negligence, the claimant developed the severest Grade 4 pressure sores, i.e. loss of blood supply, total skin death and bone damage. Along with her disability, the patient was left with hip dislocation, unable to straighten her hips and knees, and confined permanently to a wheelchair needing 24 hour a day assistance from two carers.
At the initial court hearing, the judge determined that the post-injury care requirements were “materially different from what she would have required but for the development of the pressure sores and the consequence of the previous disease or injury”. Therefore, the hospital Trust defendants were liable for “all of the consequences” resulting from the negligently-caused pressure sores and the woman was entitled to recover damages for all of the resultant care requirements, such as physiotherapy, accommodation, transport and equipment.
Radically transforming the quality of life
The Trust appealed the decision, arguing that they should only be responsible for the “additional care needs” the claimant would already have required to care for her injuries prior to those which arose from medical negligence at the Trust hospitals.
The claimant, in turn, pleaded that the negligence had caused “identifiable new injuries” that were responsible for radically transforming the quality of her life from being in a wheelchair and able to do basic household tasks to being confined to her bed requiring specialist, skilled care around the clock.
The Appeal court determined that a negligent defendant is only liable for the “additional care needs of a claimant… where the latter’s needs are essentially of the same kind as the pre-injury needs” even though they may be “in quantity” greater due to negligence.
However, where the claimant’s needs are different “in quality” due to negligence, the claimant is able to recover for all of those needs which were caused by the negligence. Consequently, the claimant was awarded a significant sum in compensation, reflecting the severity of her injuries.