People Claims: Passenger Injuries
Take these two scenarios. A middle-aged man claiming to have suffered "reactive psychological trauma" as a result of being bitten by fleas. And a 90-something D-Day veteran prevented from attending the 70th anniversary celebrations in France after fracturing his shoulder. Where would your sympathies lie?
These scenarios were the subjects of two claims against the same Member, with both alleged injuries having been suffered on one of their passenger vessels.
Mr A alleged that he suffered flea bites to his arm and shoulder overnight in his cabin. According to the medical report he provided when seeking compensation, the physical effects lasted around five weeks, and he suffered for around two weeks from anxiety about the possible long term effects.
Mr B suffered a fractured shoulder when he tripped on a metal bracket used for securing wheelchairs in a public area of the vessel. The fracture healed after six months but he was left with restricted movement in his arm, and would require assistance with day to day activities indefinitely.
Of course, sympathy has no place in judging whether to admit or deny liability for any claim. Instead, we review the precise allegations being made, and request the Member to provide relevant information and documentation to enable us to judge whether there is a viable defence. In the vast majority of cases, the ability to defend a claim will depend on whether it is possible to produce evidence to support the Member's position. Such evidence will usually be provided by way of documentation or witness statements.
As regards Mr A's alleged flea infestation, the position was fairly straightforward. A routine visit by the Member's pest control contractor had, conveniently, been scheduled for the day after the Claimant's crossing. The visit was for inspection of the vessel's public areas, but the Member also requested a specific inspection of Mr A's cabin. No fleas were found, and this was noted on the inspection form. The Member also confirmed that regular pest control visits took place and were fully documented. Furthermore, no other reports had been received relating to fleas in any cabin on the vessel for almost a year. Liability was firmly denied, but the Claimant issued proceedings. We argued that the low value of the claim meant it belonged in the small claims court (which would mean his solicitors could recover only limited costs if he won), and the court agreed. On a purely commercial basis (because we would not have recovered our legal costs even had we won, due to the new QOCS costs rules), the Member settled the claim for £750 including costs, a bad result for the Claimant and his solicitors, whose costs by then would have well exceeded this figure.
Mr B's broken shoulder was a different story. Whilst there was nothing ostensibly wrong with the metal bracket, the Member was unable to locate any documentary evidence of its inspection or maintenance, or find anyone who could provide witness evidence of this. This meant that there was no way of proving that there were measures in place to ensure that the brackets did not pose a threat to passengers' safety. In the eyes of a Court, this would likely be viewed as a gap in the evidence sufficiently significant to justify a finding against the Member. Therefore, although no formal admission of liability was made, it was decided that the most appropriate course of action was to seek to settle the claim.