Ok, here’s the deal. You are a healthy, active, hardworking person. Should you agree, I shall wave my magic wand and give you CRPS – the most painful condition known to medical science. And, as if that was not horrific enough, you’ll suffer with it for the rest of your life.
But don’t worry, here’s the good news. Agree to that and I shall also hand you a blank cheque. There’s no catch; just fill in the figure – as much as you want – and the money is yours.
It’s your call.
No amount of money
Of course, anybody who has experienced CRPS will know that absolutely no amount of money can compensate for the daily torment of the condition. But CRPS often develops following an injury caused by somebody else – an employer, another driver, a public body – and those affected are entitled by law to be compensated.
Understandably, “how much will I receive?” is one of the two most common questions asked by new clients; the other being “how long will this take?”
As the leading specialist solicitors for CRPS and other chronic pain conditions, over the years BLB have seen many hundreds of CRPS claims settle. However, at first glance it is surprising to see the range of compensation received by those clients. In what follows, I shall explain why it is that some clients received seven or high six figure sums, while others received less.
Lawyers use the term ‘damages’ rather than ‘compensation’. Every claimant’s claim breaks down into a host of different ‘heads’ or types of damage.
Damages for the injury or medical condition itself are perhaps the most obvious head of damage in any claim. This is what lawyers refer to as damages for ‘pain, suffering and loss of amenity’, or PSLA for short. It has to be said that in respect of every type of injury and medical condition, damages for PSLA are woeful. For CRPS, depending upon a host of factors, particularly severity, prognosis and the effect of the condition on the claimant’s day-to-day life, the guideline range of damages available for judges to award is between £18,480 and £73,670. Even an award at the top end of that range seems, at best, insulting for somebody suffering such a life-changing condition.
Other heads of damage
Beyond PSLA, what is claimable is entirely subjective, reflecting a combination of the claimant’s life before the accident and their future financial needs resulting from the accident. These further heads of damage divide broadly into two categories: ‘past loss’ (to the date that the claim settles) and ‘future loss’ (from the date of settlement onwards).
Common heads of damage which often fall into both past and future loss categories are loss of earnings, loss of pension, paid and unpaid care, medical treatment, vehicles and transport, specialist equipment, domestic adaptations, gardening and decorating.
Two claimants suffering a similar distribution of CRPS may receive entirely different total damages awards. This is often the result of their different personal circumstances before the accident and the effect that has upon certain heads of future loss.
A good example is future loss of earnings. The annual loss of earnings of somebody unable to work who previously earned £15,000 a year, is clearly going to be substantially less than somebody who earned £50,000 a year. If those two claimants are broadly the same age and those figures are, in each case, projected forward to retirement, in all likelihood the damages for that head of claim alone are going to be wildly different in each case.
Another important factor is age. The brutal fact is that, generally, younger claimants have more years ahead of them and therefore higher claims for future loss than older claimants.
When the various heads of damage are totted up, the multitude of variables between individuals mean that the total damages claimable in each case can vary substantially.
However, before a lawyer can even begin to crunch the numbers and advise on valuation, the medical experts need to complete their job and provide a settled, long-term prognosis – in other words, to answer the following questions:
- Is this claimant going to recover?
- If yes, how long is that likely to take and is there any treatment they require to help get them there?
- If no, what is the likely final state of their recovery and what limitations will they be left with?
Without answers to those questions, if a lawyer purports to be able to provide a valuation for the claim, they are simply plucking a number from the air.
Clearly, for somebody who has developed CRPS, it is likely to be some considerable time before specialist doctors feel comfortable in articulating a long-term prognosis. Certainly, most would be unhappy providing such an opinion until treatment has concluded, particularly any invasive treatment and multi-disciplinary pain management.
Rewinding to that first meeting, you can see why it is pretty much an impossible task to answer the “how much?” question. At that stage, the more important focus is obtaining interim payments for early specialist treatment and to keep a client’s head above water financially.
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About the author
Leading Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) solicitor Richard Lowes co-founded the first legal team in the UK specialising in representing people suffering CRPS and other debilitating chronic pain conditions. Richard is a popular speaker on the subject of chronic pain in litigation and remains an inveterate blogger.