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PERSONAL INJURY CASE STUDY: Allen v O’Donnell

The case of Allen v O’Donnell & Anor [2021] QSC 63 involved a Plaintiff who received approximately $2.5 million damages following a significant vehicle collision in 2015. While he had extensive physical injuries, the court determined that it was the psychological and psychiatric injuries that were the dominant injuries.  

Although the client had some psychological issues prior to the accident, the large sum awarded for the psychiatric injuries indicates the well-established eggshell skull rule. This case maintained this principle that pre-existing injuries cannot be a used as a limitation for a defendants liability.  

FACTS 

On 5 January 2015, Mr Blaise Anthony Allen (Plaintiff ) was travelling from Townsville to Brisbane with his three children. When driving on the Gateway Motorway in Brisbane, Matthew Thomas O’Donnell (First Defendant) veered onto the wrong side of the road causing a high-speed head on collision. i  

The plaintiff experienced extensive and serious physical and psychiatric injuries including:  

Physical Injuries included:  

  • Facial Injuries including Laceration on Chin  
  • Neck Injury  
  • Shoulder Injuries  
  • Scarring  
  • Chest Injury  
  • Knee Injury  
  • Ear and Eye Injuries  

Psychiatric Injuries included:  

  • Brain Injury  
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  
  • Aggravation of Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder 

ISSUE 

The insurer [Second Named Defendant, hereafter Defendant] (RACQ) admitted liability, therefore this was not an issue at trial.  

The issue related to the determination of the appropriate amount of compensation to be paid to the Plaintiff.  

What was the correct compensation amount to be paid to the Plaintiff re General Damages, Economic Loss and Gratuitous Care?  

LAW 

The damages were assessed under the Civil Liability Act 2003 (QLD).  

The injuries were assessed under the Injury Scale Value, outlined within the Civil Proceedings Regulations 2011 (QLD).  

HELD 

The Plaintiff was awarded a total of $2,499,399.69 in damages on 25 March 2021.  

The breakdown of the damages is outlined in the table below:  

GENERAL DAMAGES 

In the court’s findings, the most serious injury was the Item 11 Serious Mental Disorder. The ISV value of this item is listed within the Civil Liability Regulation 2014 as 11 to 40. The Court lifted this assessment to an ISV of 44 due to the extensive nature of the psychiatric injury.  

The Plaintiff’s wife provided witness evidence of the Plaintiff’s post-accident conduct. She noted that prior to the accident he was ‘an exceptionally charismatic gentleman…an extremely patient man…very bright’ and with whom she ‘had a very good marriage’. Unfortunately, the accident had a severe impact on his mental state, affecting his cognition and focus.  She noted that ‘he’s not the man I met.’ii  

TYPE OF INJURY ISV Reason  
 PHYSICAL INJURIES  
Item 8 – Minor Brain Injury  8  The major personality change and cognitive limitations resulted from the severe psychological injuries, as opposed than just the brain injury – which was described as minor. iii 
Item 16 – Moderate Facial Injury  13 Laceration on left chin, leaving scar and facial numbness. Teeth and Gum injuries causing loss of  sensation leading to dribbling & leaving food around mouth caused by paraesthesia.iv  
Item 88 –  Moderate Cervical Spine Injury Soft Tissue  9    Neck injury causing ongoing hip pain, neck pain, back pain,  headaches, stiffiness in knees and wrist pain.v  
Item 97 – Moderate Shoulder Injury   Left Shoulder Injuryvi 
Item 93 – Moderate Lumbar Injury  8  Lumbar Spine Injuryvii   
SCARRING Scarringviii  
Item 38 – Moderate Chest Injury  14 Chest Injuryix  
Item 127 – Moderate Pelvis or Hip Injury  20  Left Hip Injuryx  
Item 139 – Moderate Knee Injury Knee injuries to both kneesxi  
Item 124 – Minor Upper Limb Injuryxii  0-5  
Item 119 – Moderate Hand Injuryxiii  6-15   
Item 33.3 – Minor Ear Injuryxiv  0-3 for each ear  
Item 29 – Minor Eye Injuryxv  0-5  
 PSYCHIATRIC INJURY  
Item 11 – Serious Mental Disorderxvi  20  

PAST ECONOMIC LOSS & SUPERANNUATION 

The Plaintiffs past economic loss was assessed based on his role prior to the accident. His nett pay per week was $1,660 as an associate director of workplace health and safety at James Cook University Townsville.xvii  Although both parties argued at different assessment of weekly earnings based on the Plaintiffs redundancy from 25 March 2016,xviii the court maintained the nett pay of $1,660 and awarded $516,957.20xix with interest of $$17,245.69xx and past superannuation of $57,025.39. xxi 

FUTURE ECONOMIC LOSS 

The Plaintiff assessed his future economic loss at approximately $1 million more than the Defendant. He argued that he would have continued to gain higher positions within the mining industry over a period of 20 years. 

Acknowledging the vast difference, the court made the following comments:  

“The difference of over a million dollars between the plaintiff and defendants’ submissions based upon the same evidence highlights the difficulty of the proper quantification for loss of economic capacity.”xxii  

In the findings, the Court assessed the future earning capacity at a net per week of $1,800. This was informed by the Judges balancing of the Plaintiffs employment history, capability and the likelihood of progression within the Plaintiffs industry – mining. The Court awarded $959,040. xxiii 

OTHER EXPENSES  

The court awarded various other expenses as outlined in the table above.   

LESSONS  

The countless injuries from this case highlights the devastating impact of vehicle accidents. The ramifications and ongoing care required for the Plaintiff will be life long. Although apportioning costs can require a large amount of estimation, the courts damages can provide much needed support. In this particular case, the Plaintiff’s larger compensation amount indicates the operation of the legal system and legislative instruments to provide some form of X compensation and restoration 

BEEN INJURED IN A VEHICLE ACCIDENT? WE CAN HELP!  

If you have experienced a significant personal injury, our Corney and Lind Personal Injury Lawyers are available and here to help.  

Our experienced employment law team are here to help. Give us a call to discuss your situation & book in your appointment with an expert Personal Injury Lawyers today.   

This article was written by Prini Avia.  

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