Law report: Claimant's competence leads to dismissal of cognitive damage claim

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This law report has been contributed by national law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer.

Turner v (1) Joseph Aaron Jordan (2) Motor Insurers' Bureau (Queen's Bench Division — 2 July 2010)

On 11 December 2005, Mr Turner was the front-seat passenger in a car involved in a head-on collision.

By the time of trial in June 2010, Mr Turner was unrepresented. He claimed a variety of symptoms — including chronic fatigue syndrome, conversion disorder, unexplained numbness to limbs, confusion and rages, and "pain that has never subsided". The Motor Insurers' Bureau had served video evidence obtained in May and September 2009, which showed Mr Turner with an altogether higher level of physical functioning than he had led the experts to believe.

The main question for the trial judge was whether the catastrophic symptoms that Mr Turner was reporting were genuine symptoms experienced as a result of the conversion disorder — and which might vary sufficiently to explain the video evidence — or whether he was exaggerating his injuries for financial gain.

Mr Turner represented himself. His wife gave evidence and supported his account. This did not have the effect Mr Turner desired. The judge found if he was suffering from a genuine conversion disorder, Mr Turner might well give the account he did. That, however, could not explain why Mrs Turner gave the same account.

As an unimpaired individual she should have been able to describe matters accurately but, in supporting her husband's account in its entirety, the only explanation was dishonesty. In addition to this, during the course of trial Mr Turner acquitted himself well, particularly in cross examination of Dr Jacobson, the psychiatrist instructed by MIB. Mr Turner pressed home a couple of good points and kept track of the evidence throughout the five-day trial. This, the judge found, was not someone who was suffering the cognitive problems he claimed had so ruined his life.

The judge found that Mr and Mrs Turner had sought to mislead not only the medical practitioners whom they saw but also the court. The judge did feel able to identify a period in which Mr Turner suffered from a genuine injury and assessed general damages at £5000.

What is interesting about this case is that the claimant's own competence in handling his own case at court over a period of four days was a significant factor in the judge finding that he was not as cognitively damaged as he would have the court believe.
Matthew Burfield, BLM Southampton

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