Litigation Personal Injury 02/04/96

Seaman claims for Zeebrugge horror. The case of a seaman who says he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the horrors experienced in the search for bodies after the 1987 Zeebrugge ferry disaster is to go to the High Court.

Although Ioan Harries, of Clwyd, Wales, did not issue his writ until six-and-a-half years after the disaster – more than double the statutory three year limit – deputy High Court judge Anthony Thompson QC has given him the go-ahead to proceed out of time.

Harries played a major role in the long and harrowing search for bodies after the 1987 disaster in which 188 lives were lost when the P&O European Ferries' Herald of Free Enterprise went down. He became involved because of his intimate knowledge of the vessel – he had been chief engineer on Spirit of Free Enterprise, the Herald's sister ship.

However, the search lasted more than a month and at the hearing the judge was told that many corpses recovered were barely identifiable, bloated and falling apart. Harries claims that since his involvement in the incident he has been unable to get what he saw out of his mind and has suffered nightmares and flashbacks.

He says his marriage broke up because he became increasingly unreasonable and began drinking. However, in arguing he should be allowed to proceed with his claim out of time, his counsel William Featherby said he was not diagnosed as suffering from PTSD until November 1991 and until then had not suspected there was anything mentally wrong with him.

The judge, giving leave for the contested case, which is said to involve a "substantial claim", said he considered Harries would be prejudiced if the case was stopped.

P&O is understood to be contesting the claim on the grounds that it is not liable for Harries' condition because he volunteered to help in the recovery and is said to have been warned of the dangers he faced.

Martin Davies – 1 March 1996 (award by Criminal Injury Compensation Board)

Claimant: Martin Davies, 3Incident: Claimant attacked outside Wembley Stadium in May 1983

Injuries: Claimant was pushed over; head hit wall; left basal and temporal fracture of skull, right temporal lobe contusion, intra cerebral haematoma and damage to frontal lobes of brain; in hospital for two weeks; claimant had to give up work as carpenter but retrained as construction draughtsman; however, at time of hearing had failed to obtain employment in that field; unlikely to ever regain driving licence; also unlikely to ever work at heights or use power tools again

Award: £158,000; award included £35,000 general damages for pain, suffering, loss of amenity; £16,000 general damages for one year's loss of earnings; £35,000 for general damages from February 1996 at £2,500 per year on a multiplier of 14; special damages of £57,000

Plaintiff's solicitors: Turberville Woodbridge (Uxbridge)

Eckford v Southampton and South West Hampshire Health Authority – QBD 18 March 1996

Claimant: James Frederick Eckford suing as father and next friend of Kimberley and Katherine Eckford, and as administrator of estate of his late wife, Rosemary

Incident: Failure to diagnose and treat cervical cancer in time

Injuries: Fatal; abnormalities first spotted in Rosemary Eckford's cervix after birth of first daughter in 1989; cancer diagnosed after birth of second daughter in 1990; Mrs Eckford died in 1991; claimed that had cancer been diagnosed and treated in sufficient time Mrs Eckford would have stood 90 per cent chance of long-term survival

Award: £200,000 agreed damages (£25,000 for each daughter and remainder to Mr Eckford)

Judge: Mr Justice Scott Baker

Plaintiff's solicitors: Boyes Turner & Burrows (Reading)

Defendant's solicitor's: Wessex Legal Services

Smith v Waltham Forest Health Authority – QBD 19 March 1996

Claimant: Teresa Smith, 3Incident: Psychiatric patient injured jumping from hospital window

Injuries: Paraplegia necessitating life-long care; negligence admitted; quantum disputed

Award: £495,79Judge: Mr Justice French

Plaintiff's solicitors: Robin Thompson & Partners