Injured mental patient awarded pounds 500,000

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A mental patient left paraplegic after throwing herself from a window when she was allowed to walk out of a psychiatric unit was yesterday awarded pounds 495,799 damages in the High Court.

Since her teens, Teresa Smith, 32, had suffered from intermittent psychotic episodes, during which she would try to harm herself, and was admitted to Claybury Hospital, Woodford, Essex, on eight occasions.

In January 1992, when she felt one of the episodes coming on, she went to a police station, where a surgeon found she was in need of immediate care, and she was taken to Claybury.

Shortly afterwards, she left of her own accord and next morning threw herself from a window, 20 feet up.

Waltham Forest Health Authority admitted liability for inappropriate psychiatric care, but contested the amount of damages awarded to Ms Smith, who now lives in a unit attached to Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone, east London.

Ms Smith wanted a damages award which would enable her to maintain her independence as far as possible, while the health authority wanted to provide her with a life-long care package.

Mr Justice French said there was no evidence to suggest that Ms Smith would be unable to obtain in the public sector the nursing and other domestic services she would need, and consequently she was entitled to damages which must include those costs.

The damages, which include an agreed sum of pounds 90,000 for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, would provide her with the means to buy a bungalow, specially adapted for her wheelchair.

The amount of the award reflected the fact that she was likely to spend increasingly long periods in hospital, because of her mental condition, he said.