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Mourant Ozannes secures record £14m damages award in landmark Privy Council case


A landmark case that could have a significant impact on the mechanism used to calculate damages in personal injury claims has been won by Mourant Ozannes' litigation team in Guernsey.

On 7 March 2012 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (comprising Supreme Court Justices Lord Hope, Lady Hale, Lord Brown, Lord Clarke & Lord Dyson) handed down judgment in the case of Simon v Helmot [2012] UKPC 5, unanimously dismissing the appeal from the Guernsey Court of Appeal of the Defendant to the original Royal Court of Guernsey proceedings, Dylan Simon.

The effect of the decision is to uphold the Guernsey Court of Appeal's award of almost £4.5m in addition to the £9.3m already awarded at first instance making a combined total of almost £14m and confirms the highest lump sum award ever made in the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies.

Manny Helmot is a former Commonwealth Games cyclist who suffered severe head injuries after being knocked from his bike by a car driven by Mr Simon on a training ride in Guernsey in 1998.

Mourant Ozannes acted for Mr Helmot throughout. Advocate Gordon Dawes appeared on behalf of Manny Helmot in the Royal Court Guernsey, the Guernsey Court of Appeal and with James Dingemans QC in the Privy Council.

The Privy Council's judgment is of considerable interest and importance in the many common law jurisdictions without statutory mechanisms for dealing with such matters. The case will be looked at closely all around the common law world. In addition it is likely to have a considerable impact in the UK itself. The Lord Chancellor is in the process of reviewing the discount rate to be used in England and Wales, having last set the figure back in 2001 at 2.5%. He is likely to come under even greater pressure to make a substantial downwards adjustment which itself will be reflected in much higher lump sum awards of damages in England and Wales also, Scotland is likely to follow.

The Privy Council agreed that the first and foremost consideration was that a claimant was entitled to full compensation for his or her injuries. In the absence of a statutory regime dealing with such matters the starting point was the House of Lords case of Wells v Wells and the use of rates of return derived from Index Linked Government Stocks. Those rates of return had fallen substantially in recent years. The effect of wage inflation had also been recognised. The expert evidence called by the claimant had been given by experts whose credentials had been as impressive as they could possibly have been and was essentially unchallenged.  In the circumstances it was not open to the Guernsey Court to find that the claimant's case as to future losses had not been proved.  The discount rates argued for by the claimant had been proved, including the negative discount rate of -1.5% and therefore the (very high) multipliers resulting from those rates and the appeal failed.

Advocate Dawes commented: "This is a wonderful result for Manny Helmot and his family. The judgment assures Manny's future care and gives him and his family peace of mind. It is also a wonderful result from a legal point of view which is likely to have an effect in many jurisdictions around the world. The principles established in this case will mean substantially higher lump sum awards of damages for seriously injured claimants in those jurisdictions affected and enable them to fund their care arrangements in a way that was not possible with the law as it was understood to be. It is very exciting also for Guernsey to produce such an important case which has truly made waves around the common law world."