Martin, a freelance press photographer, was sent by the local paper to the scene of a fatal cycle accident. The emergency services were already present at the scene, which was cordoned off by the police.
|Police take exception to presence of photo-journalist|
From outside the cordon, Martin began to take photos. Some police present took great exception to this, he was assaulted by being rugby tackled, held in a headlock and pulled around, his camera was seized and he was threatened that his vehicle would be seized also. He was also roundly abused and called a “sick pervert”. His protests that he was an accredited photographer, only doing his job and not photographing the deceased, went unheeded.
Martin was badly shaken up, the assault aggravated longstanding back problems but more importantly, he suffered an adverse psychiatric reaction which left him with a low mood. He felt generally lethargic and had problems concentrating. His sleep was disturbed. He lost interest in seeing friends or socialising. He was prescribed anti-depressants It was recommended that he undergo a course of cognitive behaviour therapy to overcome these problems.
The Metropolitan Police had accepted at a relatively early stage that what their officers had done was unjustified and confirmed that they would not contest liability. But they did contest the claim for damages we put forward, and they attributed most of Martin’s problems to underlying difficulties in his history. There was some evidence in Martin’s medical records of these difficulties.
Fortunately, a settlement was reached shortly after the issue of proceedings, with Martin recovering almost £13,000 for the pain, suffering and psychiatric disturbance which had been caused by the assault. The Metropolitan Police also agreed to pay Martin’s costs in full.
In English law, defendants cannot escape liability for their wrongful acts by saying that their victim already had –eg - a bad back. The legal rule is that the defendant takes his victim as he finds him. So it’s bad luck on the defendant if his victim happens to be more vulnerable to injury. In fact this is known as the “thin skull” rule.
But often the real battleground is the cause of the claimant’s condition, ie to what extent is the claimant’s pain and suffering attributable to the incident as distinct from pre-existing problems, which had or would shortly have appeared, even without the incident? Many cases resolve because both parties recognise that there are risks in proceeding to trial where the outcome cannot be predicted. In fact most accident cases are resolved far short of the trial itself. The skill lies in securing a good outcome for the client as quickly as possible.