Appeal court upholds €302,000 award for old injury worsened by traffic accident

An appeal court has upheld a €302,000 award to a woman over injuries from a traffic accident.

Jo-Ann O’Sullivan (33) banged her head against a headrest which seriously exacerbated an earlier injury, the court heard.

In 2020, the High Court made the award to Ms O’Sullivan, of Laburnam Grove, Commons Road, Blackpool, Cork, over the accident in Glanmire, Cork, on August 27th, 2016.

She was a passenger in a car that was hit in the rear by a car driven by Agnieszka Brozda, Brookville Estate, Glanmire, Co Cork.

She claimed she hit her head against the headrest and her head was propelled forward then backwards.

This, she claimed, seriously exacerbated an earlier injury caused when she struck her head against an electricity box in November 2015 while straightening up as she retrieved mail from her post box. That injury required serious surgery on her neck and skull, the court heard.

As a result of the traffic accident, she sued Ms Brozda who admitted liability. The only issue the High Court had to deal with was the amount of damages to be awarded.

Ms Brozda denied Ms O’Sullivan was injured to the extent claimed or that there was serious exacerbation of her post-operative condition as a result of what was a “minor” impact.

Ms Brozda’s side also pointed out that it cost just €249 to repair the car Ms O’Sullivan was traveling in.

At the close of the case, Ms Brozda’s lawyers sought to have it dismissed because it was claimed evidence given by Ms O’Sullivan in relation to her loss of earnings was misleading. Ms O’Sullivan worked in the human resources department of KBC in Dublin at the time of the accident.

The High Court rejected that claim. The judge who heard the case said he preferred the evidence of Ms O’Sullivan’s treating doctors.

He also rejected the defence’s contention that Ms O’Sullivan’s ongoing complaints were the result of catastrophic thinking in relation to her level of pain and disability.

He found she suffered constant and at times severe pain to her neck, shoulders and lower back, along with knee pain, as a result of the accident. He accepted she was unfit for work since.

Following the making of the award, Ms Brozda appealed. She claimed the High Court erred in relation to the amount of damages awarded and in its decision not to dismiss the alleged misleading evidence about loss of earnings.

The CoA dismissed the appeal in two separate judgments from Ms Justice Mary Faherty and Mr Justice Maurice Collins.

Ms Justice Faherty, dealing with the level of damages awarded, said the defendant had not made out a persuasive case that the High Court judge erred in law in his assessment of general damages or in relation to loss of earnings and special damages.

Ms Justice Faherty agreed with the judgment of Mr Justice Collins who dealt with the issue of whether the case should have been dismissed over the loss of income evidence.

Mr Justice Collins said it was important that courts should have the power to dismiss fraudulent personal injuries actions but it is equally important that there should be a high threshold for exercising that power.

In this case, the High Court judge concluded that there was no basis for the dismissal application made by the defendant, he said.

That conclusion followed from the judge’s detailed findings on the evidence and “no basis whatever for impugning those findings has been identified”, he said.

In Mr Justice Colllins’ view, there was never any basis for bringing that aspect of the appeal. He said the dismissal application in the High Court was made in a manner that “was materially unfair” to Ms O’Sullivan.

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