QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION
Nixon v F. J. Morris Contracting Ltd
Before Mr Justice Garland
Judgment December 21, 2000
It was possible in a rare or exceptional case for a court to find that multiple sclerosis had been caused by trauma which took the form of trauma to the brain or spinal cord that had entailed alteration in the blood brain barrier.
Mr Justice Garland so held in the Queen’s Bench Division when determining certain preliminary issues so as to dismiss Robert Nixon’s claim for damages for personal injury made against F. J. Morris Contracting Ltd.
In May 1992 the defendant’s employees allowed a lamp standard to fall on to the claimant’s car as he was driving along a dual carriageway in Milton Keynes.
He was troubled by dizziness, found driving at night difficult, was troubled when lying down by a feeling that his head was spinning and also by a feeling of unsteadiness. In late 1994 he was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed multiple sclerosis.
It was ordered that there be a separate hearing to determine the nature and extent of the injuries sustained, whether it was possible for those types of injuries to trigger symptoms of MS, whether they had triggered MS in the plaintiff and what had been the nature extent and duration of those symptoms.
Mr Alan Rawley, QC and Mr Timothy Grice for the claimant; Mr Nigel Baker, QC and Mr Adam Korn for the defendant.
MR JUSTICE GARLAND said that in Dingley v Chief Constable, Strathclyde Police (1998 SC 548), upheld in the House of Lords (2000 SC 77), the First Division of the Inner House of the Court of Session considered that academic studies failed to throw up any positive connection between MS and trauma.
In the present case, his Lordship had the advantage of statistical evidence. It was possible that there was a greater willingness to concede a possible connection between trauma, breach of the blood brain barrier and demyelination even by resolute opponents, than was the case some years ago.
In the circumstances, his Lordship did not feel in any way inhibited from reaching conclusions different from those reached by the First Division and upheld in the House of Lords.
Three questions arose: (a) Was it the case that trauma could provoke MS at all? (b) If so, what type of trauma? (c) How severe must that trauma be? By the end of the present trial it became apparent that Professor McDonald and Dr Lewis accepted (a) but qualified it by adding “in a rare or exceptional case” and all were agreed that the answer to (b) was that it must be to the brain or spinal cord, typically the more vulnerable cervical spinal cord.
It was common ground that the beginning of an answer to (c) was sufficiently severe to cause an alteration to the blood brain barrier although that, of course begged the actual question.
In his Lordship’s opinion the answer to the question whether it was possible for injuries of the type sustained by the claimant to trigger MS had to be “No”.
The claimant did not sustain an injury to his cervical spinal cord. There had to be some injury to the cervical spinal cord to establish a causal connection with the onset or exacerbation of MS.
Solicitors: Pictons, Milton Keynes; Borneohughesmartell, Northampton.
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.