Acting for children in settling small claims begs the issue of whether costs should be awarded. But there has been conflicting authority on this point.
I recently acted for a claimant in the Uxbridge County Court. My client was seven when involved in an accident at the defendant's premises, a large supermarket. My client walked into an automatic door which failed to open and sustained minor injuries including a graze over the left eyebrow, nausea, dizziness and a headache which lasted one day, and a bruise visible for approximately one week.
After negotiation quantum was agreed at £500 with the defendant's insurers, subject to court approval.
My opponents disputed that costs should be awarded. I argued that no settlement or compromise could be made without approval of the court.
I subsequently obtained legal aid to issue proceedings and argued successfully before the district judge that proceedings had been issued to seek court approval due to the claimant being under a disability. The district judge awarded the claimant's costs to be assessed pursuant to the Legal Aid Act.
In the case of Watford (A Minor) v Tesco Stores Limited (1998) my client was two years old at the date of the accident and five at trial. He broke his leg when he slipped and fell on some crisps at Tesco's premises. He was taken to hospital and admitted overnight.
My client suffered sleep disturbance as a result of the accident and was unable to walk while his leg was in plaster. He experienced some problems with mobility after the removal of the plaster including some abnormality of gait but he made a full recovery. General damages were awarded at £3,850.
The district judge held that my client should be awarded the same damages for the injury to his leg as an older person.
Previous reported cases had indicated that young children should not be awarded as much, but the district judge in this case distinguished the case of Jones v Morgan where the court considered that as the child was young it should be awarded less for the loss of amenity. The district judge was not sure if this was a general proposition and distinguished the same.
Emma Taylor is an associate solicitor at The Woodbridge Partnership, Uxbridge.