Case Study: Seriously injured equestrian is awarded significant damages

A client with a life-changing equestrian injury is awarded an offer that will make an enormous difference to her future quality of life.

Circumstances of the Injury

Date: 16th May 2016

Location: South Wales

Solicitor involved in case: Robert Jones, Serious and Catastrophic Injury, Birchall Blackburn Law

A keen equestrian, became unbalanced and fell from a horse during a cross-country jumping lesson. She recalled approaching a jump but didn’t know how she fell from the horse or what happened next. She had a recollection that as she was lying on the ground, waiting for paramedics, she heard a witness say that she had initially got to her feet and managed to remove her riding hat and equestrian body protector at which point she immediately fell back down to the ground and lost the feeling in her legs. She was left paralysed below chest level. She had no personal recollection of doing that and was unable to say who had made the remarks she had heard.

Client instructs Birchall Blackburn Law

The catastrophically injured rider instructed us almost two years later, well within the usual three-year time limit to make a serious injury claim. We spoke with her in person to get a good grasp of what happened, how it happened, when it happened and why.

Initially, we discovered the following:

  • The client had queried whether or not the horse was suitable for cross country jumping but had been assured that he was
  • The jump itself was the very first one on the cross country course, it was relatively small and well within the client’s capabilities when riding a suitable horse.
  • The client had previously ridden the same course multiple times on different horses
  • She had arrived late for the lesson and had only had around 5 minutes to warm up before attempting the jump

Liability and Blame: The Client’s Case

The client’s case was that the Defendant equestrian centre was negligent in a number of ways. She claimed the lesson was not properly planned and there had been inadequate warm-up time. She also claimed the horse wasn’t a suitable horse for cross country jumping.

The final strand of her case was that once she had fallen from the horse, the instructor should have proceeded with the upmost of caution given the known risk of spinal cord injury from after equestrian falls (including sharp bone fractures which might otherwise heal) causing irreversible catastrophic damage to the spinal cord after inappropriate movement. She asserted that the instructor should have taken control of the situation and told her not to move until the paramedics arrived.

Our client’s case was that if she had been kept still she would have made a full recovery instead of the irreversible paralysis which she did suffer.

Liability and Blame: The Defendant’s Case

The defendant denied any negligence. They also claimed that the horse was suitable for cross country jumping,

The Defendants defendant said there was adequate time for a proper warm-up and the claimant didn’t express any wish to spend more time warming-up. They said that our client’s fall happened as result of her becoming unbalanced after the horse put in an extra stride. They said that falls caused in that sort of way were common place and a risk which is inherent to horse riding.

The defendants disputed that our client stood up and removed the body protector and that everyone had told her that is what she had done. Their case was that her paralysis had been caused in the initial fall which was just a tragic accident albeit one which is a risk of horse riding

Evidence

The horse

A leading equestrian expert, appointed by the Defendant insurance company involved in the case, visited the equestrian centre and rode the horse. He found the horse to be capable of cross country jumping.

However, when we asked permission to have our own equestrian expert ride the horse, the defendants tried to dissuade us. They said the horse was retired from cross country jumping. We managed to instruct our expert anyway and, although she wasn’t allowed to jump with the horse, her findings showed that the horse’s suitability for cross country jumping was highly questionable.

We also traced a riding instructor in France who was previously employed by the defendants. When we visited her, we took statements on her knowledge of the certain habits which made the horse unreliable for jumping.

The Defendants served statements from six witness who had been on the scene and all said that after the fall our client had remained lying on the ground and had been kept still pending the arrival of the paramedics.

The body protector

We knew that our client’s body protector had been removed at the scene because it remained there afterwards. We doubted it would be possible for someone with a spinal cord injury to have removed it lying down. We traced the paramedic who was on the scene at the time and took a statement in which he confirmed he didn’t remove the body protector. We obtained a report from a leading Neurosurgeon who confirmed that it would be almost impossible for the claimant to remove the body protector while lying flat on her back (as the Defendants said she was).

Furthermore, we identified the A&E consultant who treated our client on her arrival at the hospital. The consultant lived in New Zealand, but we were still able to contact her and secure her agreement to talk to us about her recollections of our client’s comments on arrival at hospital.

To demonstrate the implausibility of the defendants’ evidence, we purchased an exact replica of the body protector and made a video to demonstrate the position, mechanism and strength of the Velcro straps.

The Defendants were left in the position where they could not reconcile the removal of the body protector with their own accounts that our client did not move.

Outcome

Our client’s claim was pursued in the High Court and had been listed for a preliminary trial to determine whether or not her paralysis was caused by negligence on the equestrian centre’s part.

  • Following the exchange of the evidence summarised above, we met with the defendant’s lawyers by video link to discuss the conflicting accounts and evidence
  • The defendants maintained their denial of liability throughout
  • The defendants offered to settle out of court
  • The offer was accepted

The accepted offer will make a huge difference to improve the quality of our client’s life as well as that of her family. More specifically, she will be able to move to a bungalow or have her existing home adapted to her current needs. Once lockdown and travel restrictions are lifted, she will be able to go on holiday with her husband and children for the first time in five years.

Client’s Comment

“Robert Jones has worked tirelessly on our behalf over the last three years and it is as a direct result of his meticulous attention to detail that our case was settled, in our favour. We have been kept updated and informed at all stages and Robert has given us plenty of time and support to assimilate the technical details of our case. I cannot recommend this firm highly enough, as all staff we have had dealings with have been of the same calibre. Robert has been able to balance a sympathetic approach with a thorough investigation and has left no stone unturned in seeking to build our case. What could have been a very distressing process has in fact been useful on many levels, again this is directly attributable to the approach and skill of Robert Jones.”

Other Observations

Although we are delighted to have helped our client recover the compensation she deserved and so desperately needed, the bottom line is that she is left paralysed. No amount of compensation can make that right and everyone involved in this claim wishes they could turn back the clock.

The real tragedy is that her injuries were not inevitable. From the evidence of the Neurosurgeons, the conclusion must be that had she been kept still until the paramedics arrived, she would have eventually made a full recovery.

Whenever there is even a possibility of spinal injury, the most basic first aid advice is to keep the casualty still until they have been stabilised by paramedics. That applies to falls suffered in sporting activity, in the home, at work or anywhere else. We urge any first aiders to always be mindful of this and to proceed with the upmost caution.