Claimant’s life goes from rags to riches

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Accident LegalNewsClaimant’s life goes from rags to riches

A man who became homeless after a motor vehicle accident was awarded $1.28 million.

In Martin v Andrews [2016] QSC 20 the Queensland Supreme Court awarded Mr Martin, who sustained soft tissue injuries to his neck and lower back in a motor vehicle accident, $1,282,572.10 plus costs. Liability was admitted by the insurer and the trial was based on the amount of damages only.

Mr Martin was 39 years of age when he was injured in the accident and was 44 years of age at the trial. Prior to the accident Mr Martin was a qualified electrical fitter/mechanic. The Court held that there was nothing in Mr Martin’s past to suggest that he was anything but "hard working, diligent and respected by his peers" and he was in good health.

Following the accident, Mr Martin did not return to any employment; he alleged that he could not re-enter the workforce as an electrical fitter/mechanic. Mr Martin thought of starting a business with his son in the electrical field using his skills and knowledge and his son’s labour, however his son was subsequently injured severely in an accident and was for a period in a coma. Insurance monies received from Mr Martin’s written off Land Rover in the accident went to discharge debts owing on his and his parent’s vehicles. The family farm was sold at the bank’s insistence over his strong opposition as he had invested substantial monies in the farm which he lost from the mortgagee sale. At the time of the trial Mr Martin owed $8,000 to the Australian Tax Office. The Court observed that Mr Martin followed a "nomadic" life, often living in caravan parks and "sleeping rough" using a swag. At one point Mr Martin was evicted because of poverty, and was robbed whilst living in a men’s shelter.

The insurer at the trial called into question Mr Martin’s credibility by relying on surveillance taken of him the weekend before the trial. The video showed the plaintiff at his campsite bending, squatting and "moving apparently quite freely". The court observed that his neck movements were "certainly freer" than he displayed at the courtroom. Mr Martin laid on the ground and looked under a vehicle for a short period. Mr Martin’s Queens Counsel at the trial submitted that there was no activity shown on the surveillance video that the plaintiff had ever claimed he could not do. This was accepted by the court.

Mr Martin’s orthopaedic surgeon was of the opinion that Mr Martin was no longer able to perform his pre-injury occupation as an electrical fitter/mechanic due to the soft tissue injuries. Conversely, the insurer’s orthopaedic surgeon was of the opinion that Mr Martin was fit to return to work as an electrical fitter/mechanic.

The court preferred the evidence of Mr Martin’s orthopaedic surgeon and held that had the accident not occurred, Mr Martin would have continued to work as a self-employed electrical fitter/mechanic, earning approximately $2,000 net per week. Over 240 weeks, this totalled to approximately $400,000 for past economic loss.

Mr Martin was also awarded $750,000 for future economic loss which equated to around $800 net per week over 16 years.

Time will tell whether the insurer will appeal, but for now, Mr Martin has gone from living in caravan parks, sleeping in shelters and generally "sleeping rough", to a millionaire.

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