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£multi-million personal injury claim dismissed by Foskett J

Pauline Carter v Kingswood Learning and Leisure Group Limited [2018] EWHC 1616 (QB)

Angus Piper of 1 Chancery Lane represented the successful Defendant (Kingswood), whilst the Claimant (Mrs Carter) was represented by Simeon Maskrey QC and Richard Baker.

After a liability-only trial which lasted for a total of 4 days in the QBD, Mr Justice Foskett this morning gave judgment for the Defendant and dismissed the claim for damages arising from the Claimant’s participation in an abseiling experience at the Defendant’s premises.

The Claimant had contended that she was insufficiently supported on a safety rope by her instructor whilst abseiling down the Defendant’s purpose-built tower and that her upper body was caused to flop backwards, thereby jerking her neck and causing a Vertebral Artery Dissection which in turn led to a stroke a few days later, as a result of which she sadly continues to suffer from life-changing injuries.

There was expert evidence both in respect of the abseiling experience and also (from eminent neurologists) in respect of causation. It was common ground that the Claimant had suffered a VAD and that had caused her stroke; but there was disagreement between the experts as to whether or not a jerk of the neck whilst abseiling was responsible for the VAD, as opposed to it being caused spontaneously, or by some other unremembered incident of minor trauma, or whilst engaging in a fencing activity which followed the abseiling. The judge held “on the narrow balance of probabilities” that the jerk of the neck during abseiling had indeed caused the VAD.

However, the judge dismissed the claim because there was no breach of duty on the evidence before him. He accepted the evidence of the Defendant’s instructor, and found that the Defendant had a good system in place for safe abseiling from its tower. Equally, the judge accepted the Defendant’s submission that neither of the two necessary ingredients to enable the Claimant to establish her claim on the facts, namely (a) that whilst braking on her abseil rope she had also (b) pulled the safety rope towards her, so as to create the slack rope which it was common ground would have been necessary to permit the accident to occur as she described, were made out on the evidence. Accordingly, he dismissed the claim.

Although quantum was not expressly dealt with because the trial was on liability only, it is apparent that the claim was worth £millions.


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