Tim Palmer discusses a landmark compensation decision. Tim Palmer is a solicitor at Penningtons' personal injury unit.

a recent Surrey-based client has won a compensation claim for personal injury as a result of a landmark High Court decision.

Peter Melhuish of Chiddingfold was injured when he tripped over a low wall at Chiddingfold Ex-Servicemen's Club in March 1995.

The accident happened as the 67-year-old was leaving the club by an unlit exit. Melhuish is now confined to a wheelchair with very limited movement of his arms, and is in need of constant care.

The decision was important not only for Melhuish, but also in legal terms. The Court of Appeal had previously concluded that a member of a members' club could not sue the club.

This was because, legally, a club is no more than the sum of its members. Therefore the injured member would, in effect, be suing himself. But, in giving his judgment on 18 August, Mr Justice Hooper said that the club committee and its employees owed Melhuish a duty to ensure that the exit was adequately lit.

They had failed in this duty and were therefore obliged, via their insurers, to compensate Melhuish for the cost of care as well as for the pain and suffering caused by the injury.

The judge said it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the law had changed and that if the Court of Appeal heard a similar case now, they would make a decision in favour of the injured party.

I believe in these cases it is essential that judgment is pursued quickly to minimise the distress to the injured client.

In this case, we were able to reach trial a little over three years after the accident, despite the new law involved which, in legal terms, made for a very swift conclusion.