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Wood v Days Healthcare UK Limited and Others 2017 EWCA

2 February 2018

The recent Court of Appeal decision in Wood v Days Healthcare UK Limited and others considers the position where a defendant seeks to reconsider an earlier admission of liability where the value of a claim significantly increases following the admission being made.

The claimant, Susan Wood, was a paraplegic user of a motorised wheelchair. She suffered what appeared to be relatively minor injuries in October 2009 when the wheelchair she was using catapulted forward trapping her against a desk.

A letter of claim was sent on her behalf to Days Healthcare UK Limited (later to be named as first defendant) as the manufacturer of the wheelchair, alleging liability under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and the Sale of Goods Act 1979. Subsequent correspondence indicated that the claim was likely to a fast track claim. Documents were served in support of liability, including photographs and an incident report form (IRF) confirming there was a failure on the part of the chair as a weld below the seat had broken (although it was later disputed that this document had been enclosed).This IRF had greater significance as it revealed that the wheelchair chassis had been replaced in 2008 by another company suggesting an issue in relation to causation and the potential liability of a third party (later sued as D2) In June 2010 liability was conceded by Days Healthcare, although without sight of the IRF.

During 2011 medical evidence was served on Days Healthcare which demonstrated a deteriorating prognosis. In August 2012 the claimant solicitors confirmed that the claim had changed in ‘character and amount’.

In October 2012 particulars of claim were served naming Days Healthcare as first defendant (D1) valuing the claim in excess of £300,000. D1 applied pursuant to CPR Pt14.1A to resile from its admission. At the time of this application the court dealt with a separate application made by the claimant and entered judgment against D2, (the defendant whose employees, according to the courts finding, had assembled the chassis that failed in 2009).

The several factors to be considered when an application to resile is made are dealt with under CPR Pt14 (7)2:

In deciding whether to give permission for an admission to be withdrawn, the court will have regard to all the circumstances of the case, including:

(a) the grounds upon which the applicant seeks to withdraw the admission including whether or not new evidence has come to light which was not available at the time the admission was made;

(b) the conduct of the parties, including any conduct which led the party making the admission to do so;

(c) the prejudice that may be caused to any person if the admission is withdrawn;

(d) the prejudice that may be caused to any person if the application is refused;

(e) the stage in the proceedings at which the application to withdraw is made, in particular in relation to the date or period fixed for trial;

(f) the prospects of success (if the admission is withdrawn) of the claim or part of the claim in relation to which the offer was made; and

(g) the interests of the administration of justice.

At first instance the judge refused permission to resile on the grounds that no ‘new evidence’ had come to light. One issue that did arise in this case was whether the IRF had been seen by the defendant solicitors. The judge accepted the IRF provided the first defendant with an arguable defence but refused permission on the grounds that:

  1. they should have made greater efforts to locate the IRF earlier, as it was referred to in correspondence as an enclosure
  2. there was a delay in making the application to resile
  3. an increase in the value was a risk inherent in personal injury claims and it was in the interests of ‘finality’ that the matter conclude.

On appeal it was determined that the decision not allowing the judgment to be set aside was erroneous.

  • further medical evidence indicating the severity of the claimant’s injuries was ‘new evidence’ under 14 .7 (2)(a)
  • the decision to admit was made in error
  • there was no delay as the application could only be made when D1 was aware of the increase in value
  • ’finality’ was not a factor to be considered under this section. The judge hearing the application should have balanced the various factors giving equal weight to each one approving the decision in Woodland v Stopford 2011 EWCA
  • there was no express finding of prejudice.

The Court of Appeal noted that not to allow the appeal would discourage insurers settling claims on the grounds of proportionality and costs savings at an early stage. The court was also aware that judgment had been entered against D2 and there was no need to hold D1 to its admission when the claimant had an assured claim against one of the other defendants.

Comments on the case

When faced with a significantly increased claim the courts will allow the defendant’s representatives to consider the new evidence in the form of medical reports which inflate the value if the claim, to reconsider their decision on liability. The IRF in this case was not ‘new evidence’ although that went to liability and assisted the first defendant in demonstrating that it had an arguable defence. The court made clear, however that the ‘new evidence’ that it was concerned with was the additional medical evidence supporting the significant increase in the value of the claim.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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