Trauma caused woman’s ‘personality change’

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A WOMAN who accepted a £12,500 payout for injuries suffered in a road accident is mounting a unique legal bid to re-open her case.

Joanne Dunhill, of Downhall Green Road, Ashton-in-Makerfield, was knocked down by a motorbike as she crossed the A635 Doncaster Road, in Barnsley, in June 1999.

In 2003, she accepted a £12,500 settlement offer from the motorcyclist’s insurers – but is now trying to convince Appeal Court judges she lacked the mental “capacity” to do that deal.

Miss Dunhill’s lawyers say she deserves £2.2m compensation for the grievous head injuries she suffered in the accident, which triggered a devastating “personality change”.

With her son, Paul Tasker, acting as her “litigation friend”, the 50-year-old’s legal team argue the 2003 settlement was void because, due to her head injuries, she did not have legal capacity to make an informed choice when accepting the £12,500 offer.

Her barrister, Marc Willems, told three judges the accident caused a “severe head injury”, resulting in a “complete change in her personality”, and £12,500 was a small fraction of the compensation she should have received.

She has, the court heard, been diagnosed with an “organic personality disorder”, has lost her sense of smell and has an increased risk of developing epilepsy in the future.

In a statement, Miss Dunhill claimed she felt pressured into agreeing to the £12,500 deal shortly before her case was due to be heard.

Although she regarded the payout as “chickenfeed”, she said she was advised to accept it, or risk getting nothing at all.

In March, High Court judge Mr Justice Silber refused to re-open the case, saying Miss Dunhill had “relatively well-preserved working memory” and had “expressed unhappiness” at the amount of the settlement, suggesting that she understood what it meant.

However, she is now challenging that decision at the Court of Appeal, where her case is being heard by Lord Justice Ward, Lord Justice Lewison and Sir Mark Potter.

Mr Willems told the court: “In this case, it could be said that a complex brain injury claim had been reduced to a simple binary decision of ‘accept £12,500 or risk losing all’.”

It is now estimated her claim is worth £2.2m, said the barrister, who added: “A litigant must be able to understand all aspects of proceedings and take an informed decision, with the help of any explanation from advisors.”

James Rowley QC, representing insurers, argued Miss Dunhill had rightly been held to have legal capacity to agree to the 2003 settlement and that her appeal should be dismissed.

Recognising the importance of the case, the judges have now reserved their decision on Miss Dunhill’s appeal until an unspecified later date.