Judges slash cash for injury victims

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Three large damages awards for personal injuries were slashed by up to one third yesterday when the Court of Appeal ruled against a new and more generous approach to the calculation of compensation.

The reductions follow successful appeals by the defence insurers in each case.

Thelma Wells, 60, who was awarded pounds 1.619m for injuries received in a car crash saw her damages reduced by pounds 532,000. She has permanent brain damage.

James Thomas, 7, who suffered cerebral palsy at birth due to a hospital blunder, had his award of pounds 1.285m against Brighton Health Authority cut by about pounds 300,000.

Kelvin Page, a steel-worker, lost pounds 280,000 of pounds 906,000 damages against Sheerness Steel for the brain damage he suffered when he was speared by a hot metal bar.

The High Court judges who made the awards fixed higher than normal sums for future losses and expenses after accepting evidence that the only safe way of investing the money would be to put it in low risk index-linked government securities, which earn only 3 per cent a year. Normally awards are based on a 4.5 per cent return from equities and gilts.

The three awards followed recommendations from a working party which were adopted in a Law Commission report but are not law.

Lords Justices Hirst, Auld and Thorpe ruled that the original guidelines should still be followed.It was not for the courts of their own volition to adopt a new practice. Lawyers for the three victims are to seek leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

Mr Page's solicitor Paul Kitson said: "The judgment means plaintiffs will have to continue to gamble their awards on the stock market in order to ensure a sufficient income for the rest of their lives.

"The original award to Mr Page reflected the seriousness of his injuries and his substantial care costs.

"The rejection by the Court of Appeal of the trial judge's more generous approach is a blow, not only to Mr Page, but to victims of accidents in the future."

James Thomas's legal team said the decision would have serious consequences for him and his family.

The damages for the negligent treatment which injured him would now be insufficient to guarantee the level of care which had been planned for his future. He has a normal life expectancy.