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Susan Joyce Ive v Dianne Steel (2001), Queen's Bench Division

7 August 2002
The issues

Negligence – road traffic – personal injury – damages.

The facts

The Claimant was stationary with her head and body leaning forward and turned to the right when her car was struck from behind by the Defendant’s car without warning. The Claimant was aged 41 at the time and worked as a Senior Teacher. Liability was admitted and it was accepted that in the accident, the Claimant had suffered a whiplash injury which led to lasting symptoms in the cervical spine.

In May 1996, the accident having occurred on the 10th January 1995, the Claimant suffered acute back pain and underwent spinal surgery in January 1998. Lower back symptoms were decisive in the Claimant’s decision to retire on medical grounds from her employment in January 1999 and the principle issue in dispute in this case was whether the symptoms in her lumbar spine and lower limbs had been caused by the accident.

The decision

1. The Claimant’s only previous instance of any lower back pain was in 1990 following an operation, which had caused a slight displacement of her right sacro-iliac joint. Her symptoms in this regard had however improved following gentle manipulation.

2. On the 11th January 1995, following the road traffic accident, the Claimant had been examined in hospital and a whiplash injury was diagnosed. Mention of lower back pain did not appear either in the hospital records or in the Claimant’s General Practitioner notes at that time. It was not until around 6th February 1995 that lower back pain radiating into the leg was sufficiently significant for the Claimant to raise it. Notwithstanding these findings, on the preferred medical evidence there was on the balance of probabilities a causal connection maintained between the accident and the symptoms first claimed of by the Claimant in early February 1995. Radicular pain did not always follow a logical anatomical route, despite the Claimant having been in the worst possible position at the time of impact and suffering the worst kind of falls on her disc, ie a twisting force.

3. The pain radiating into the Claimant’s legs did not necessarily have a precise anatomical analysis.

4. The Claimant greatly enjoyed teaching and had been an industrious, successful and respected member of staff. She had a one third chance of becoming a Head Teacher within 4 years of September 1999, but would have retired at the age of 60.

5. In relation to the Claimant’s future earnings, she would probably qualify as an Educational Psychologist, but would be substantially handicapped in the restricted labour market in question.

6. Judgment was entered for the Claimant in the sum of £420,000.00. In view of the fact that the materialisation of the Claimant’s lower back pain nearly a month after a road traffic accident was shown to have been caused by the accident, notwithstanding the substantial delay in the onset of symptoms.

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