ZZZ v Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust [2019] EWHC 1642 (QB) (26 June 2019)

On 25 October 2011, a collision between two motor vehicles occurred… A young woman, known in these proceedings as XXX, was a rear seat passenger in one vehicle. She was using the lap seat belt fitted in the car. The other vehicle was driven by a person known in these proceedings as ZZZ. XXX sustained serious spinal injuries in the collision and was taken to D hospital by ambulance…[1]

ZZZ, acting through her insurers, then commenced contribution proceedings against D… ZZZ alleged that when XXX presented to the emergency department … her injuries were indicative of a lap belt injury; that, nonetheless, no spinal precautions were taken in the emergency department; that on arrival she had voluntary movement of her legs but, within 2 hours, she had lost the ability to move or feel her legs; and that the likeliest explanation for that development was the failure by D properly to protect the spine. [3]

…XXX ought, in my judgment, to have been treated and handled on the assumption that she may have suffered significant spinal injuries… The full range of spinal precautions should have been introduced so as to ensure, so far as was possible, that XXX did not move her spine. There was no conscious decision to do that. In my judgment, that too was a breach of duty. What matters, however, is whether that made any difference given the way in which XXX was in fact handled and treated. [129]

XXX was nursed throughout the relevant period lying flat… I find as a fact that she was nursed lying flat, or nearly flat, on a trolley and her spine was not exposed to any significant extension, flexion or rotation. [130]

Because of my findings that XXX’s spine was not moved to any significant degree, the Claimant is unable, by direct evidence, to establish causation. [132]

…there cannot have been an event in the hospital which caused or contributed to the injury sustained by XXX. In my judgment, the damage to her spinal cord was complete at the time of the accident and the paralysis which she subsequently developed was inevitable from the moment of the collision. [133]

It is wrong to see the trauma sustained by XXX’s spine in the accident as a single event with consequential damage complete by the time the ambulance staff extracted her from the motorcar. On the contrary… the trauma to the spine continues because the spine was locked in a contorted and extended position. The pressure on the spine remained and the damage to the spine continued and, in all probability, extended. …chemical changes in the spine continued after the initial trauma. I have no doubt, as all the experts agreed, that the spine was already compromised to some extent by the time XXX arrived at the hospital. The condition of the spine worsened while she was there, but not because of any additional trauma for which D was responsible, but because of the structural and chemical changes that continued in the spine during that period… those continuing changes meant that the remaining sensation and movement in the spine ceased. [137]

…The cause of XXX’s paralysis was not her treatment at Yeovil but damage inflicted in the accident. [138]

For the reasons set out above, this claim for contribution is dismissed. [151]