When Jessica Wilson visited Walt Disney World in 2013 she expected to experience the magic and excitement of a theme park holiday; she certainly didn’t intend to be injured when a member of staff ran over her foot with a heavy cart. Although the injury initially only left a small bruise on top of her foot, she claimed that the pain worsened from there, leading to an eventual diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
US citizen Jessica decided to sue Walt Disney World for the pain, suffering and losses caused by her illness, claiming $11 million in damages, plus a further $4.4 million in future care costs. Although this seems (and is) a huge number, CRPS sufferers who’ve had their lives ripped apart by the illness can testify to the extent of their lost earnings, property adaptations, aids and equipment, as well as the expense of medical treatment, medication, physiotherapy, psychological therapies and the ongoing care costs that such a diagnosis can create.
Did Jessica tell the truth?
But was Jessica telling the truth about her injury? The first thing that any personal injury lawyer, wherever in the world they are, will emphasise is the absolute importance of complete honesty in describing symptoms and the effect they have. Any exaggeration or invention can ruin a claimant’s credibility, leading judge and jury to distrust everything they say. And that can have a terrible impact on the financial damages that are finally awarded.
In Jessica’s case, there were a series of contradictions that didn’t look good for her. Firstly, she claimed the cart had run over her foot twice, but the defence brought in expert engineering witnesses who testified that would be nearly impossible given the design of the carts. It was difficult enough for the cart to have actually run over her foot even once.
Secondly, she claimed to have reported the accident to a hotel concierge at the time, but there was no record of this and no one had filled out the forms that Disney habitually uses when any kind of incident is reported. No concierge could remember speaking with Jessica and the unnamed busboy pushing the cart was never identified or located.
Thirdly, (and speaking as a CRPS sufferer, most damningly in my eyes), Jessica claimed that her foot was entirely normal for twenty-eight days of the month, only displaying the discolouration and swelling typical of CRPS for up to three days at a time. Well, anyone who has CRPS can tell you that this is simply not how the illness works, and indeed, the defence had a medical expert in CRPS who stood up in court and said exactly the same thing. Jessica had also continued to work in a high pressure job that required frequent travelling, where most people actually suffering with the condition find it very difficult to continue working, let alone in such a stressful and demanding job.
What did the jury decide?
Unlike the UK, in the US a jury decide the amount of damages. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the jury in this case concluded that Jessica was exaggerating her illness. They awarded her a mere fraction of what she had claimed: $59,840. Worse was still to come though, when they decided that Jessica herself was 60% responsible for the accident, meaning that she would only receive 40% of the total damages awarded, leaving her with damages of only $24,000. That’s just 0.15% of the total amount she originally claimed.
The moral here must be that absolute honesty is the single most important element of any personal injury claim.
In the UK, since 2015 the Court have the power to dismiss the whole of a claimant’s claim – even parts of it that everyone agrees are perfectly genuine – if the Court finds that the claimant has been “fundamentally dishonest” in relation to any part of the claim. Unsurprisingly, this is something that defendants are very keen to raise and the courts have shown that they are more than prepared to wield the axe!
To find out more about bringing a personal injury claim, have a look here.