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Causation! Causation! Causation!

Chattalou v Haringey Council
8.11.16
Edmonton County Court

Local authorities should not be afraid to defend a claim on causation alone. Hazel James outlines her recent successful defence of a claim on behalf of Haringey Council, in which a strong challenge to the claimant's evidence resulted in dismissal of the claim.  

Facts

The claimant, Mr Chattalou, brought a claim against Haringey Council stating that he had suffered injury as a result of a fall on a defective paving stone which he pleaded occurred on 27 March 2014.  

Following investigations, the Council noted that they had received two complaints from the claimant himself prior to his accident, advising them of the defect and that it had failed to repair it. Breach of statutory duty was therefore admitted early.  The issue of causation and contributory negligence, however, remained live.

The Council had grave misgivings about the claimant's claim from the outset, particularly bearing in mind that he had reported the defect to them prior to his accident.  They also had doubts about whether the claimant's accident had occurred in the manner as described.  The claimant, therefore, issued proceedings in September 2015 and the Council proceeded to defend the claim, arguing causation but without pleading fraud.

Following a review of the claimant's medical records it became clear that this case was not nearly as straightforward as it initially seemed. 

The claimant said that he injured his left knee as a result of his fall on 27 March 2014 but the medical records showed that he had had a previous fall in December 2013 and his records noted an injury to the same knee.  He also had a long history of left knee problems and had previously had an arthroscopy. 

He argued that he was asymptomatic by the time of his March fall, but his records show that he had visited his GP just six days prior to it, complaining of knee pain.  In addition, an MRI scan undertaken three weeks prior to his accident showed that he had a tear in his knee. 

The Council also noted that the claimant did not seek medical attention after his alleged accident until four weeks later, suggesting that there was arguably, no significant damage if at all. 

The claimant initially relied upon two experts' reports, and both experts took the view that the he was a genuine claimant. Whilst accepting he had previous knee problems, they accepted his claim that he was asymptomatic by the time of the accident in March 2014 and that therefore, the accident had significantly injured his knee. 

Following detailed and lengthy Part 35 Questions to both experts, both accepted that there was nothing in the contemporaneous records to support a fall on 27 March 2014 and accepted that he had had a previous fall in December 2013. 

At that point, the claimant's solicitors came off record, a strong suggestion that his solicitors no longer had confidence in the merits of the claimant's claim.

Notwithstanding this, he ploughed on and was able to obtain the services of a second firm of solicitors who proceeded with the claim on his behalf.  

Findings

District Judge Orchover dismissed the claim: 

  • The Judge was not satisfied that the claimant's knee had been injured in the fall in March 2014 given the medical evidence. Causation could not be proven.

  • Notwithstanding this, if she had found causation to be proved, she would have found the claimant 100% contributorily negligent on the basis that he was well aware of the defect and fell over it anyway. 

  • Despite being invited to do so, the Judge did not find fundamental dishonesty, notwithstanding the fact that the claimant accepted that his witness evidence was untrue.  In particular, he stated in his statement that he did not have any previous history with his knee and that he was pain free prior to the accident.  

Comment

The fact that the judge in this case was willing to find the claimant 100% contributorily negligent (query whether that is at all possible!) demonstrates that if you can provide a judge with an alternative finding to fraud, then there is every chance of convincing a judge to dismiss what is clearly a dubious claim.  The key to these types of claims is to have the courage and conviction to challenge the evidence and put the claimant to proof.  In this case, the Council put forward a robust causation argument and the claim was dismissed. 

Contact

For further information please contact Hazel James, Associate on 020 7645 9514 or hazel.james@dwf.law

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This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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