The District Court of New South Wales has awarded a woman $473,715 after she suffered serious injuries when her mother struck her while driving.
Some car accidents have a lasting effect on the people who were involved, both physically and psychologically. A recent District Court of New South Wales case emphasised the difficulties some individuals can experience long after such incidents.
The plaintiff had been sitting on a small, stationary motorcycle outside her parents’ house when the accident occurred. The bike, a 125cc Thumpster model that is designed for children, was situated behind the woman’s parents’ car, and she asked her mother to move the vehicle forward to give her space.
However, the woman’s mother accidentally put the car into reverse and struck the rear end of the bike. The plaintiff was thrown to the right and put out her right arm to soften her fall, fracturing her elbow in the process.
The defendants in the case were the plaintiff’s mother (first defendant) and the mother’s insurer (second defendant), both of whom were facing claims under the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999 and the Civil Liability Act 2002.
Points of contention
When car accident compensation cases reach the courts, there are typically several areas of contention preventing settlements. Obtaining legal advice from a specialist personal injuries lawyer is essential for claimants who want to have the best chance of succeeding when their cases go before judges.
In regards to the motorcycle accident, the insurer denied that the incident unfolded in the manner the plaintiff described. Specifically, they referred to the initial records of paramedics and doctors who treated the woman. According to these notes, she had told medical practitioners that she had fallen from the bike while travelling at very low speeds, making no mention of another vehicle.
However, the woman said this was to protect her mother from receiving a fine or other punishment. After overhearing the plaintiff give this story to doctors, the mother encouraged her daughter to tell the truth, and later medical reports reflected that the plaintiff had fallen after her mother’s car hit her.
Motor vehicle accident compensation claim. The woman will require further surgeries due to her injuries.
Judge favours plaintiff
On the balance of evidence, District Court Judge Margaret Sidis sided with the plaintiff’s version of events. The insurer also failed to follow up on allegations of fraud made in a letter to the woman before court proceedings began.
Judge Sidis said the plaintiff and her mother both gave evidence “forthrightly”, and the claimant readily admitted she had previously lied about her version of events in an effort to protect her mother from potential punishment.
“The most compelling evidence in support of the plaintiff’s claim came from the first defendant,” Judge Sidis said in court notes. “She described her dread and fear, when she inadvertently reversed the car and heard a bump, at the thought that she had run over her grandchild.”
As such, the judge said she was satisfied that the accident occurred as the plaintiff and her mother had claimed. Furthermore, the defendant’s reversing of the vehicle into her daughter constituted a breach of duty of care that should result in liability and damages.
Assessing the plaintiff’s injuries
One of the most challenging aspects of compensation cases is accurately determining the appropriate level of damages. Claimants may receive money for past and future loss of earnings and superannuation, as well as payments for medical costs, care and treatment, home modifications and other miscellaneous expenses.
This case was particularly difficult, as the woman suffered both physical and mental problems due to the accident. While she did not meet the minimum threshold for the recovery of non-economic losses – such as pain and suffering – the incident had various long-term ramifications.
Three medical experts confirmed the plaintiff would suffer permanent disabilities from her elbow injury, including stiffness, discomfort and restrictions in her movement. She may also develop post-traumatic arthritis.
The woman reported feeling depressed following the motor accident, causing her to withdraw socially and creating strained relationships with her husband and mother. One doctor said the plaintiff now suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, which is moderate to severe in intensity.
The $473,715 damages that Judge Sidis awarded were broken down into several areas:
Past income and superannuation – $7,493
Future income and superannuation – $258,501
Past and future attendant care – $194,639
Past and future out of pocket expenses – $13,082
When evaluating the plaintiff’s potential income, the judge accounted for the fact that the woman had recently completed a Certificate III in nail technology with the intention of becoming a beautician. She had also indicated a desire to eventually become a real estate agent.
Her care requirements were based on her inability to complete many household tasks without the help of her husband. Judge Sidis ruled that it would be unreasonable for her spouse to continue providing seven hours of housework per week while also working full-time.
Furthermore, the plaintiff is likely to require further surgeries, including a replacement of the elbow joint at some point in the future. She also recently commenced seeing a psychologist to help with her depression following the motor vehicle accident.