Counting the cost

Photo by Ray Reyes on Unsplash

Recently, one of my students asked how judges determine the level of damages that the victim in a personal injury would receive. Was there a formula or did judges make a subjective decision?

I responded that it was the former answer and that there had to be a level of consistency and transparency displayed by judges when making these types of decisions.

The Damages (Scotland) Act 2011; the latest version of the Ogden Tables; judicial precedent; awards made by civil juries; and other relevant legislation will form a framework in which judges will operate to come to their decision in the matter of compensation.

The Ogden Tables deserve a special mention: these are compiled by actuaries using statistical calculations which assist lawyers and courts throughout the UK to assess the monetary value of personal injury and fatal accident claims.

A link to resources about the background to the Ogden Tables can be found below:

A case which I mentioned in one of my most recent blogs involved medical negligence. In George Andrews v Greater Glasgow Health Board [2019] CSOH 31, Lord Pentland very helpfully lays out in great detail the levels of compensation awarded to the pursuer and the rationale for these. In that case, the pursuer raised an action because his partner had died as a result of a failure by a junior doctor to admit her to hospital when she was chronically ill and had a history of very serious health issues.

It’s quite instructive to see how a judge arrives at deciding the level of compensation to be awarded to successful pursuers.

In George Andrews v Greater Glasgow Health Board [2019], Lord Pentland awarded a sum of approximately £187,614 to the pursuer. This can be broken down as follows:

In the first instance, £2,922.44 was awarded for the pain and suffering (solatium) caused to the deceased partner of the pursuer due to the failure to admit her to hospital.

Lord Pentland made the following observations:

A number of cases were cited to me; they included: Gallagher v SC Cheadle Hume Limited [2004] CSOH 103, Bellingham v Todd 2011 SLT 1124, McGhee v RJK Building Services Limited 2013 SLT 428 and Manson and others v Henry Robb Limited 2017 SLT 1173. As well as these judicial awards, reference was made to some jury awards. [my emphasis] Having regard to the guidance provided by these cases, to the deceased’s life expectancy of 7.5 years, and to the pursuer’s evidence, I consider that an appropriate figure for damages under section 4(3)(b) of the 2011 Act is £75,000.

Section 4(3)(b) of the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011 provides that the damages payable to the relative of a deceased person (“A”) should be:

b) such sum, if any, as the court thinks just by way of compensation for all or any of the following –

(i) distress and anxiety endured by the relative in contemplation of the suffering of A before A’s death,
(ii) grief and sorrow of the relative caused by A’s death,
(iii) the loss of such non-patrimonial benefit as the relative might have been expected to derive from A’s society and guidance if A had not died.”

Lord Pentland also awarded the pursuer damages for loss of support. In the case under discussion, the pursuer had lost his partner (whom he had lived with for 20 years before her death) as a result of medical negligence.

Section 4(3)(a) of the 2011 Act addresses this issue:

such sum as will compensate for any loss of support which as a result of the act or omission is sustained, or is likely to be sustained, by the relative after the date of A’s death together with any reasonable expenses incurred by the relative in connection with A’s funeral,

This figure took into consideration the following matters:

He has no family or children to console him. The pursuer misses the deceased greatly and has had substantial difficulty in adjusting to her death. He has had to sell the house they lived in and can no longer enjoy Christmas and going on holiday. Subparagraph (iii) covers matters such as the inability to share holidays, to pursue mutual interests and to go out socially together. …

On the basis of a life expectancy of 7.5 years for the deceased, damages for loss of support in terms of section 4(3)(a) of the 2011 Act were agreed in the sum of £65,620, exclusive of interest. I shall allow interest on £55,000 at 4 per cent per annum from 8 January 2013 until the date of decree.

In terms of Section 9 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982 , a successful pursuer can claim for ‘services’. As Lord Pentland identified in his judgement this might a monetary calculation to include the value of the following matters:

“… the deceased [the pursuer’s partner] did all the ironing and the dusting; the parties shared the cooking. It seems reasonable to proceed on the footing that the deceased would have prepared around half of the parties’ evening meals and that she would have spent several hours a week ironing and dusting. On that basis, I shall allow 3 hours per week at £7.00 per hour for the personal services rendered by the deceased to the pursuer at the time of her death. This brings out a multiplicand of £1,092 per year.

It is usual practice for the calculation of the value of services to include the pursuer’s past and future losses.

Interest (usually at the statutory rate of 8%) normally accrues on an award of damages, but parts of the award (as in the present case) may have different rates applied.

A breakdown of Lord Pentland’s calculations in respect of damages plus interest (over and above the element for solatium) can be found below:

Section 4(3)(b) above refers to the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011

A link to Lord Pentland’s Opinion can be found below (paragraphs 170 to 185 of the judgement are particularly relevant):

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Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 January 2020