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Liability – pre-action admission – summary judgment – Civil Procedure Rules
Elisabeth Laing J
9 May 2016
The claimant issued claims against five defendants for injuries suffered as she was using her wheelchair, when the chair riser shot forwards, propelling her into the desk, pinning her against it and injuring her. The court was required to determine the claimant’s application for summary judgment on her claim against D2, as well as D1’s application to withdraw its admission of liability. Summary judgment was given, however, the court rejected D1’s application to withdraw its pre-action admission.
As a result of the accident, the claimant suffered a shoulder injury which was operated on, and she claimed that she then developed complications which had had a devastating effect on her life, severely limiting the independence which her dominant right arm gave her.
D2 had previously been the primary care trust which had been dissolved, and so D2 assumed its liabilities. D3 was also dissolved and D2 assumed its liabilities also. D2 supplied the claimant with the wheelchair in 2007 with a riser unit. D2 argued that it bought the riser on the claimant’s behalf and she reimbursed D2 for the cost, whereas the claimant argued that there was a contract between herself and D2 for the supply of the riser unit.
D2 ordered the wheelchair and riser unit from D5, who in turn obtained it from D1. D1’s case was that it assembled the wheelchair from a riser unit supplied by D4. D2 did not know that the riser unit was fitted to the original wheelchair by D1, and D4 argued that it produced the riser unit to a good standard and in accordance with a specification provided by D1. There was no contract between D1 and D2. The claimant’s case was that the riser unit was sold to her by D2, who was contractually responsible for repair and maintenance of the wheelchair and riser unit.
The claimant reported a problem with the riser unit to D2 in June 2008, and D2’s case was that it contacted D1 and a riser unit then turned up on a pallet directly from D1. After pressure from the claimant, D2 fitted the second riser unit to the wheelchair. D2’s employees had no instructions but fitting it was a simple job.
D1’s case is that the second riser unit was then fitted to a new chassis, which had been supplied by D1. D1 argued that the fitting of the new riser unit and a new chassis amounted to the production by D2 of a different wheelchair to that originally supplied by D1 to D2 in 2007. The claimant’s case was that the second riser unit caused her accident.In early 2010, D1 made a pre-action admission of liability, which it later sought to withdraw on the basis that it was not the producer of the chair which had caused the accident, after realising that D2 had fitted the new components since it originally supplied the chair.
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The claimant applied for summary judgment against D2.
The court gave summary judgment against D2, holding that whilst NHS bodies, by statute, provide NHS services to patients free of charge, the agreement between the claimant and D2 made plain that the riser unit was not provided as an NHS service. The contract was for the sale by D2 and purchase by the claimant of the riser unit, made against the background of a gratuitous supply of the wheelchair. If D2’s submissions were correct, the outcome of the agreement would be that the claimant had brought a riser unit for £500, but could not know from whom, and so could not know who was liable if there was a fault with it. The court held that it could only adopt such a construction if driven to it by the clearest words, which there were not in this agreement. The court rejected D2’s argument that even if there was a contract between itself and the claimant, it was for the sale and purchase of the original wheelchair and not the ‘accident wheelchair’ as the latter was not the wheelchair originally supplied in 2007. The court held that under the agreement, D2 agreed to repair and maintain the wheelchair, seat and seat riser, and the replacement of the riser unit and chassis were carried out pursuant to such obligation to maintain and repair.
Regarding the application by D1 to withdraw its admission, the court held that CPR PD 14.7.2 provides that the court must take into account all the circumstances, including the matters specified in that sub—paragraph. Firstly, D1’s admission was made after it inspected the wheelchair which failed, and if it had taken reasonable steps to investigate at that time, it would have discovered that the ‘accident’ wheelchair was not the wheelchair that it originally supplied. There was no new evidence about the circumstances of the accident to justify the withdrawal of the admission.
Further, whilst it was true that the potential value of the claim had increased since the admission in 2010, that is a risk inherent in any personal injuries claim, and the court did not consider this to be a good reason for allowing D1 to withdraw its admission.
The next factor was the conduct of the parties, including any which led to the admission. The court held that the crucial period of delay to consider was that between the date of the admission and the time when D1 indicated that it was going to resile from it, and that D1 had delayed considerably. The court held that both the claimant and D2 would be prejudiced by a withdrawal of D1’s admission. D1 had a reasonable prospect of defending a claim that it was the producer of the accident chair and could claim a contribution from D2 and D4. The court did not consider that the claimant could be criticised for any conduct which led to the admission, although D1 could be open to criticism. Further, the giving of summary judgment against D2 was not a reason for allowing D1 to withdraw its admission, and the liability of one defendant did not extinguish that of another in respect of a different cause of action.