Tourist wins pounds 1.2m for pub accident

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The Independent Online
A DUTCH tourist whose hopes of a brilliant career ended after she suffered brain damage when a pub menu blackboard fell on to her head, won pounds 1.2m damages in the High Court yesterday.

Tessel Van Oudenhoven's intellect was perfectly preserved and she appeared to be perfectly normal, said Mr Justice Wright. But her cognitive function had been subtly disturbed, so she was now operating at a far less effective level that before the accident, which happened in the Rugby Tavern, Great James Street, London, in 1991. The civil engineer, who has not worked since 1996, had complete insight into her disability and could compare it with how she was before. "As a result, very understandably, she is angry, frustrated and distressed, and I think is undoubtedly very obsessive about what she perceives she has lost," the judge said.

Her emotional state undoubtedly aggravated the neck and back pain from which she suffered from time to time, and her balancing mechanism. "The brain injury itself, although no more than at the lower end of moderate in severity, has nevertheless had a disproportionate impact upon her cognitive abilities and consequentially a catastrophic effect upon her career and earnings prospects."

The damages with costs were awarded against Griffin Inns Ltd, of Chiswick, west London, which had admitted liability but contested the amount of damages. Lawyers for the company had alleged Miss Van Oudenhoven, 31, who lives in Amsterdam, had exaggerated the consequences of her injury, which they dismissed as a minor laceration to her scalp. The judge said the view the company's lawyers took of the incident was indicated by the fact that their admitted figure for special damages was limited to pounds 10 - representing the cost of taxi fares back from the casualty department at St Bartholomew's Hospital on the night of the accident.

Miss Van Oudenhoven was a top student at the Technical University of Delft when, for an unexplained reason, the "substantial piece of timber" fell 18in and struck her edge-on, said the judge. Her professor described her as a "brilliant and active student". But after her return to Holland she appeared withdrawn, apathetic, confused and unclear in her speech. Her graduation was delayed by a year but she still qualified with distinction.

Her ambition was to work in management in one of the major multi-nationals but, in view of her own perceived difficulties, she lowered her sights and obtained a job as a project engineer with a Dutch consultant engineering firm.

Three years later, in 1996, after a 10-month assignment in Colombia, Miss Van Oudenhoven was exhausted and described herself as a "complete mess". She resigned because she was not coping with the level of endurance required for the job and had not met the high levels expected by her employers.

She had not worked since, although she had made strenuous efforts to discover what was wrong with her and obtain appropriate treatment.

Dismissing the allegation of fabrication, the judge said he could not accept that this highly intelligent and successful graduate would have so exaggerated the consequences of her accident as to give up her chances of obtaining the work she wanted in order to inflate her claim for damages.

"I am satisfied that the general level of her complaints, particularly about her cognitive disabilities, is genuine".

The judge awarded Miss Van Oudenhoven pounds 35,000, plus interest, for pain, suffering and loss of amenity and around pounds 200,000 for loss of earnings so far. The bulk of the award was made up of compensation for future loss of earnings.