When the personal touch works

A recent High Court £1.425 million medical negligence settlement attracted little media attention but probably rates as one of the most moving cases of its kind to reach the courts.

Holly Williams, the 14-year-old at the centre of the action, was left grievously disabled after suffering oxygen starvation at birth. She was initially still-born following a caesarian birth at Pembury Hospital, Tunbridge Wells.

But Williams' general awareness, fighting spirit and the way she addressed her problems has raised her case above similar actions. Despite being wheelchair-bound and suffering from cerebral palsy, she has written and published a book about a make-believe school for disabled animals with the aim of focusing attention on her own plight and those like her.

Before he approved the settlement Mr Justice Hooper was told by Williams' counsel, Charles Lewis, that she would have been a "high flier" but for her disabilities.

Jacqui Brooks, an associate of Tunbridge Wells firm Cripps Harries Hall, made no secret of her strong personal involvement in the case which made her fight all the harder on the professional front to secure what she considered the right deal.

Brooks, who qualified five years ago, and specialises in litigation, admits her personal feelings could not be dismissed when handling the case.

"I did get very personally involved," she said. "No one could avoid personal involvement in a case such as this. Holly is a remarkable girl and I felt I learned a lot from the experience of representing her. I think all of us involved feel the same and there is nothing wrong with that in such a case."

On the professional front, Brooks praised both counsel and the experts involved in the case, to whom she gives credit for clinching the deal, currently on hold pending consideration of a structuring arrangement.

The bulk of negotiations in such personal injury cases are often carried out by solicitors.

However, in this particular case direct contact between Lewis and Michael Douglas, who represented West Kent Health Authority, played a major role in the final stages of negotiations, said Brooks.

"To reach a satisfactory settlement in a case such as this I think it is essential to have both the right experts and to have counsel such as these who are prepared to play probably a bigger role than usual for counsel in the out-of-court stages. Certainly that was my experience in this case," she said.

Settlement structuring is something which became the personal injury litigation buzzword when first introduced, but it has lost its initial appeal.

However, structuring is being considered in this case and Brooks said it is something which must be looked at for any award over £500,000.

"I think that over that sort of figure you would be negligent if you did not consider structuring," she said.

"That said, it's certainly not always appropriate in every case. The relevance of structuring depends very much on the capital needs of the person involved. It may be that in this case structuring will not prove to be appropriate. But the benefits of structuring must be examined in cases of this sort."