Crash victim gets record pounds 9m damages

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A STUDENT left almost completely paralysed by a car accident was yesterday awarded record damages of up to pounds 9.25m at the High Court.

Martijn Biesheuvel, from the Netherlands, had been studying at university in Britain when he was injured in May 1994. Now aged 27, he has almost no use of any of his limbs. The money - more than twice the largest previous payout - will help pay for round-the-clock care and for "pain, suffering and loss of amenity".

Mr Biesheuvel, who now lives in Amsterdam, was one of four Bath University students who were on their way for a game of football when they crashed into the rear of parked cars. Mr Biesheuvel was sitting in the back seat but was not wearing a seat-belt.

The driver, Andrew Birrell, later pleaded guilty to dangerous driving. His motor insurers admitted primary liability but disputed the amount of damages that had been claimed.

At the High Court yesterday, Richard Davies QC, for Mr Birrell, argued that Mr Biesheuvel had been partly to blame because he should have realised that Mr Birrell was driving in a dangerous manner. "He allowed himself to be driven and continue to be driven by Mr Birrell when he knew or ought reasonably to have known that he ... was driving at an excessive speed and or carelessly and dangerously."

But the judge, Mr Justice Eady, rejected the claim and said he was satisfied that the impact which caused Mr Biesheuvel's injuries had started with an upward movement. After hearing from an expert, the judge said it did not seem to be seriously contended that a seat-belt would have made any difference.

The court heard that prior to the accident Mr Biesheuvel had been due to take up a job with the City accountants Deloitte and Touche. Ken Chalk, a senior partner in the firm, said Mr Biesheuvel could have been earning pounds 500,000 a year had the accident not wrecked his career.

Mr Biesheuvel's girlfriend, Marieka Godding, 25, broke down last month as she told the court of constant care her boyfriend needs. "There are so many things during the day he needs help with. For instance if he drops something on the floor he can't pick it up," she said. "It is not nice to say but it is like leaving a four-year-old child on his own. It is a danger and anything could happen."

The judge granted leave to appeal on the issues of liability and amount - which will be decided precisely after further discussions between lawyers. The court was told the award will be between pounds 8m and 9.25m

The previous highest damages award, in November, was to Helen Edwards, now 17, who was left brain-damaged, blind, and unable to feed or talk after she had a heart attack during an operation to remove a birthmark from her forehead. She received more than pounds 4m.

t A child who suffered brain damage after being given blood of the wrong type during a transfusion was yesterday awarded pounds 2.4m damages. James Green suffered convulsions and heart failure after the "mismatch" at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow, Essex. The blood was intended for another patient with the same name.