January 29, 2019

Life’s too short….

A recent High Court decision has provided some welcome relief to defendants who seek to challenge the default position in respect of life-expectancy.

In the case of Mays v Drive Force (UK) Ltd Deputy Master Hill QC granted the defendant permission to rely on a life expectancy expert in order to highlight the impact that smoking, hypertension, obesity and colitis would have on the claimant’s life expectancy. The case itself arose out of an accident suffered by the claimant on 12 June 2013 when he fell from the roof of his lorry, sustaining traumatic brain and orthopaedic injuries. Liability was admitted, but quantum was in dispute. On the claimant’s case, the matter was worth in excess of £2m. The defendant accepted that the case was probably worth somewhere between £1m and £2m. On either parties’ case, damages were therefore likely to be significant.

The defendant argued that the life-expectancy evidence would assist the Court in assessing damages. The evidence suggested that the impact of the claimant’s co-morbidities would reduce his life-expectancy by some 11 years, and it was submitted that this would therefore have a significant bearing on the level of damages that were to be awarded.

The claimant’s legal team argued that the claimant’s co-morbidities were common conditions which were already factored in to the actuarial tables, and that allowing the defendant to adduce life-expectancy evidence in this case risked opening the flood gates in future litigation.

The Deputy Master rejected the claimant’s argument and found for the defendant. In his ruling, the Deputy Master noted that the case law makes clear that in appropriate cases, where there is evidence of factors which have impacted on the claimant’s life-expectancy other than the tort itself, and where that evidence will assist the Court in reaching its conclusions, then it is appropriate to grant permission for life-expectancy evidence to be relied upon. Given the high value of the claim, and the relatively modest cost of obtaining life-expectancy evidence, the Deputy Master found that it was proportionate to allow the evidence in. He rejected the claimant’s flood-gates argument and stated that ultimately, whether or not the life-expectancy evidence was of any assistance, would be a matter for the trial judge.

Although this case does not set any new legal precedent, it nevertheless provides a helpful, recent example of a case management decision which favours defendants. The actuarial tables remain the default starting position for assessing life-expectancy, but where a defendant seeks to introduce expert evidence to challenge that position, this decision may help to persuade the Court that such evidence can be justified in appropriate circumstances.