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Charlotte Everett, a member of our serious injury team, shares how a particularly complex case can benefit from a home visit.  

I recently received a new case involving a 17-year-old pedestrian who had stepped out from behind some parked cars into the path of an oncoming vehicle. He sustained a fracture to the shoulder and a fractured nose.

The previous handler had received a settlement offer 25/75 in favour of the defendant, which she deemed as reasonable given the circumstances.  My first action was to discuss the offer with the client’s father, (who had been his litigation friend prior to the client turning 18) who advised he was strongly against accepting the offer.  It also came to light during these discussions, that the client had moderate learning difficulties and ADHD, which raised the question, did this client have the capacity to deal with his own legal and financial affairs?

It was due to the issues surrounding capacity, along with a concern in respect of a potential head injury, that the case had been transferred to me, and I was tasked with a) checking capacity b) checking a potential head injury and asked to carry out a home visit.

When I arrived at the client’s home, I was met by their dad who called his son down to meet me. Within seconds I realised that the client’s learning difficulties were much more profound than I had expected from my review of the file. In all honesty, I expected an average 18-year-old who may get bored of listening to me after a while. This is not what I got. The client was very friendly and set off talking at 100mph, he struggled to answer questions and asked for reassurance from his dad on pretty much every question, he struggled to understand what I was saying, and I had to explain things in as easy a way as possible. He stuck to some things and could not let go of them. He stuttered and had difficulties in finding his words. He forgot what I had told him 10 minutes before.

Given I was there to consider whether the client had sustained a head injury, alarm bells began to ring. How would I ever be able to tell what was down to his MLD and what could be down to a head injury/brain injury?  I spoke with the client’s dad and brother and asked what the client was like pre-accident vs post-accident. It transpired that since the accident the client’s stuttering had become markedly worse and his temper was now much shorter.

The part time job that I had picked up on my review of the case (and a point that made me think, of course he has capacity) turns out to be a role through college intended to help the client find employment, with his dad giving him an allowance of £5.00 per day as the client cannot manage his own money.

In terms of liability, I discovered the client had an academic age of just 13 and was also a member of MENCAP having had specialist road training for people with disabilities. I was confident that in the eyes of the Court the client would not be viewed as an average 17 year old but as a child much younger, edging liability more in our client’s favour.

By the time I left the visit I agreed to review the medical records in full and write to the client’s GP regarding capacity and I advised I would come back to them with the plan moving forwards.

Upon reviewing his records, I could see that the client has some temper problems pre-accident, as well as significant memory, word finding and stuttering problems. However, after obtaining his ambulance records, I also found that following the accident his GCS score had dropped to 14. A real red flag. I considered the possibility that the paramedic, unaware of the client’s pre-existing multiple learning difficulties may have marked him as a 14 incorrectly. So, what did I do, I sought guidance of course!

There is still a lot of work to do on this case but if I had not attended the home visit, I could have missed so much important information. It reminded me of the importance of listening to client’s and questioning things deeper when initial findings don’t seem quite right, rather than taking things on face value. A true lesson that I will not forget.