In May this year the largest personal injury settlement yet was recorded in this country. In the case of Benjamin Gillick (A Minor) V Temple Street Hospital a nine year old boy was left brain damaged and permanently disabled after a failure to diagnose an infection when he was a baby. The total damages in the case were €32.4 million and the Judge dealing with the case stated that the vast bulk of the award was not compensation but future care costs for the boy, who has a life expectancy of anybody else. It also included accommodation requirements and educational needs.
Compensation in a personal injury case is made up of a number of different categories. In a typical road traffic or car accident case you begin with the “material damage” category which relates to the damage caused to your vehicle. This is comprised of either the cost of repairs to the vehicle, or where is it uneconomical to repair, the compensation amount will be based on the pre accident value of your vehicle. The next category is your “general damages” which represents the compensation you deserve for your injury, pain and suffering. A further category is your “special damages” which is a broad category made up of your out of pocket expenses, to include but not limited to loss of earnings or medical treatment such as physiotherapy and so on.
In a catastrophic injury case such as the Gillick case factors such as the future care requirements can vastly increase compensation amounts. This is generally calculated on the basis of the claimants life expectancy and often must be reviewed by the Court on a periodical basis. In many cases the claimants accommodation needs must be included as part of the claim and this can also significantly increase compensation amounts. For example, a claimant may require a new property to be acquired where their current dwelling is unsuitable for their needs. Alternatively a property may require alterations such as ramps, wheel chair accessible ground floor rooms or extensions added to accommodate full time carers.
Judge Cross when approving the settlement offer in the Gillick case stated that many who see the €32 million figure would fail to understand that it represented the care costs of the child rather than just compensation. Therefore each case is dealt with on its own facts and it is impossible to calculate an accurate level of compensation from the outset of a case. Many expert reports are required in order to investigate an adequate compensation amount in any case of this type. The Gillick case certainly does not represent a new benchmark in compensation levels in catastrophic injury cases.