A Royal Marine who was left paralysed after diving into shallow waters in the Canary Islands has lost his £8m personal injury claim against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The 27-year-old from Cwmbran, Torfaen, suffered catastrophic spinal cord injuries when his head hit a sandbar during a surface dive while swimming with his unit in Gran Canaria, in July 2009.
On the last morning of an Adventure Training Exercise on sailing, the marines had been told by their superior that they were free to do what they wanted. The marine and five of his colleagues went to the beach, where he entered the sea to go swimming.
The marine said the MoD should have warned him of the dangers of diving in the area and that he had been at the beach to exercise as it was something expected of a marine and at least “reasonably incidental” to his work. His legal team argued the accident occurred while he was on duty, and the MoD should bear responsibility.
But MoD lawyers said the marine was responsible for an "ill-judged decision" while relaxing with friends. The High Court ruled the MoD was not liable for his injuries because the accident happened during time off.
The MoD was found not to have breached its duty of care as the marine had known at the time of the accident that there was a risk of injury diving into shallow water, he had made a genuine and informed choice to enter the ocean, he was not acting in the course of his employment, and he was not subject to any lack of capacity.
The clear conclusion from the evidence was that the marines were not on duty at the time of the accident, their superior had not given any instructions as to what they should do in their free time, and he had not even been sure where the marines had gone, let alone what they were doing.
Both sides accepted that the marine, who now lives in Plymouth, had suffered life-changing spinal cord injuries resulting in incomplete tetraplegia that have left him unable to walk.
Although he has since trained as a fitness instructor, as a tetraplegic, he needs round-the-clock care as he cannot move his legs or core. He has no hand function so even simple day-to-day tasks, such as putting socks on, remain a challenge.
People who have suffered such spinal cord injuries need substantial levels of care in order to maintain their health, well-being and independence and avoid potentially expensive and life-threatening complications.
For the thousand or so people who sustain a spinal cord injury in the UK each year, their priority should be on obtaining the highest standard of treatment and rehabilitation. In the majority of cases where someone has sustained a spinal cord injury due to a fall or a diving accident such as this, the subsequent care and rehabilitation costs form the largest part of any claim for compensation.
Compensation can help rebuild independence and provide options for people living and learning to cope with the reality of a spinal cord injury.
Jenny Maloney is an Associate Solicitor specialising in Spinal Injury Claims at Slater Gordon Lawyers UK.
The Slater and Gordon Spinal Injuries team has access to a network of treatment providers and medical experts with a vast range of experience in helping people who have suffered serious injuries. We can arrange medical treatment, physiotherapy, counselling, retraining, re-housing and many other rehabilitation services. Whatever the nature and extent of your injuries, we will make sure you are in the very best hands.
For a free consultation, call us on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.