Court of Appeal ruling regarding cost of future care
Chantelle Peters was born on 11 April 1988. She claimed damages for personal injury and loss suffered by her as a negligent result of a health authority failing to ensure that her mother was vaccinated against rubella before she became pregnant. This negligence was admitted by the health authority.
Sadly Chantelle was born with congenital rubella syndrome and will be severely disabled for the whole of her life. Chantelle has a low IQ and significant behavioural problems; she is effectively blind and has a vocabulary of just a few words.
When deciding on the amount of compensation to which Chantelle should be entitled the Judge said “she will continue to remain someone who requires intensive, compassionate and carefully structured care for the rest of her life”.
The amount of compensation to which Chantelle would be entitled was assessed by the Court. The most contentious issue was whether Chantelle’s specialist care and accommodation needs should be met by the defendant or alternatively by Chantelle’s local authority that has a statutory duty to make arrangements for providing care and accommodation for persons in her position.
This is a difficult issue faced by many claimants. The likely availability of suitable local authority funded care and accommodation for the remainder of a claimant’s life is always uncertain, some claimants do not wish to be a drain on public resources as they consider that the responsible party should pay for their care and accommodation privately, and often there is more choice and flexibility with a privately funded package. Defendants on the other hand generally try to reduce claims by insisting that local authority resources should be used instead and that there is a risk that if full compensation is paid and the local authority provides some or all of the care and accommodation that is required then the injured Claimant will have had a “windfall”.
The Judge and also the Court of Appeal in Chantelle’s case decided that there should be no reduction in the accommodation and care element of damages awarded to Chantelle to reflect the local authority's statutory duty to provide accommodation and care for her.
It was also held that there was no reason in policy or principle why a claimant who wished to opt for self-funding in preference to reliance on the statutory obligations of a public authority should not be entitled to do so as a matter of right, provided there was no double recovery. The way to avoid double recovery was for the claimant, whose financial affairs were administer by the Court of Protection, to seek an order from the Court of Protection that there should be no application for public funding or her accommodation or care, and that if such an application for public funding was made the defendant should be notified of it.
The Judge and the Court of Appeal also said that the claimant was not being unreasonable in refusing to make herself dependent on state resources and it was not open to a defendant to say that a claimant making such a decision was being unreasonable.
Sue Bowler, Head of Personal Injury and Catastrophic Injury specialist at Coffin Mew LLP says “Formulating claims for future care and accommodation for severely injured claimants has been very complex for a number of years now. These clients find themselves requiring extensive support because of someone else’s negligence or breach of statutory duty. Finally, with the Chantelle Peters judgment we see the Court of Appeal taking a common sense approach which means that injured claimants will have their futures secured because they know that they will always have the funds available to meet their needs, but that if any of these needs are met by the local authority then the defendant would be notified and could ask for an equivalent sum to be refunded so that the claimant does not suffer an unjustified windfall. The cost of Chantelle’s care and accommodation will now definitely be covered throughout her lifetime and this decision should make the calculation and settlement of such claims easier in the future. Hopefully the decision will prevent resistance from defendants which has been delaying the resolution of claims”.