Our client, a 47 year old woman from Newhaven, East Sussex, accidentally squirted wood glue (a white PVA-type glue) into her eyes on 29.12.12. She immediately washed out her eyes, removing all of the glue from the left eye, but being unable to do so from the right eye. She therefore attended the Sussex Eye Hospital, arriving within 1 hour of the incident occurring.
She was seen and assessed by an ophthalmic doctor in A&E. Her eye was washed out, but there was residual glue under the right eyelid which was not removed.
Our client’s symptoms in the right eye worsened and she returned to A&E at the Sussex Eye Hospital on 03.01.13. She was seen by the same doctor, who again failed to identify and remove the residual glue under the right eyelid.
Importantly, during both these consultations the doctor failed to record the presence of limbal ischaemia.
Our client’s symptoms continued to worsen and she returned to A&E at the Sussex Eye Hospital on 07.01.13. On this occasion she was seen by a consultant, who immediately identified and removed the glue from under her right eyelid. However, unfortunately, by this time our client had developed limbal ischaemia, and the prognosis for the vision in her right eye was significantly worse.
Our client’s right eye is now painful, waters frequently, and is very sensitive to light and wind (such that she has to wear dark glasses most of the time, including indoors). There is also a cosmetic deficit from a droopy eyelid (ptosis).
We obtained an ophthalmic expert opinion which confirmed that the initial treatment was negligent in failing to identify and remove the glue from under the right eyelid and that it was the continuing presence of the glue that caused the limbal ischaemia and therefore the worse outcome for our client’s vision. Had the glue been removed at the outset, our client would have made a full recovery without any ongoing problems (as happened with the left eye).
Once we submitted a Letter of Claim, however, the Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust sought to deny both breach of duty and causation.
Their position was that it was not negligent to fail to identify and remove the glue in A&E (which they argued would have been transparent and difficult to see), and that in any event the glue was so toxic that all of the injury was caused immediately upon impact of the glue into the eye. They admitted that limbal ischaemia had been present on both occasions but argued that it was acceptable for this not to have been identified by the doctor). They contended that after the immediate injury was caused the glue was simply acting as an inert foreign body.
The Defendant made an initial offer of £8,000, which they later increased marginally to £10,000.
However, the Defendant’s position was inconsistent with both the known facts and our expert evidence. We pointed this out to the Defendant, and we made an initial offer of £32,500, and later £27,000, but the Defendant would not be moved, and so we had to issue Court proceedings in order to progress the case.
As a result of a change in the discount rate (meaning that the calculation of future losses increased), we withdrew our offer of £27,000 and made an offer of £60,000 instead.
We made further attempts to raise the lack of evidence in support of the Defendant’s position at various stages throughout the case – most significantly pointing out that the glue would have been white (or at best opaque) in A&E and therefore perfectly easy to see, that it was not particularly harmful according to the relevant safety data sheet, and that for the Defendant’s argument about immediate injury to be correct our client’s left eye must also have had an injury (which it did not) – but such efforts were ignored.
We corresponded with the manufacturers of the glue to confirm the toxicity of the glue, the drying time of the glue, and the mechanism through which the glue dried / strengthened. Although they would not confirm the formulation of the glue (for commercial reason), their responses on other issues supported our view that:- (i) the glue cannot have had an immediate devastating effect on vision; and (ii) the glue continued to be active beyond the first A&E attendance.
Eventually, with Trial due to begin in early June 2018, the Defendant served evidence from an expert chemist in May 2018, which purported to support their position. Our assessment was that the report was not fit for purpose as it failed to reference the chemicals in the glue, the toxicity of the glue, or the drying time in moist conditions.
We were, however, forced to seek our own expert chemist opinion. Before we could do so, the Defendant made an offer of £30,000. That offer was rejected.
We obtained a prompt preliminary view from a chemist and notified the Defendant that we were in the process of obtaining supportive evidence, making an offer of £50,000 at the same time.
The Defendant responded by making an offer of £45,000, which our client accepted, settling the claim just 3 weeks before the Trial was due to begin.
Alex Tengroth, who had conduct of this case, said:
“This case is the best possible example of poor decisions by the Defendant resulting in significantly increased, and unnecessary, expense to the public purse / the taxpayer. The failure of the Defendant to acknowledge the strength of the claim has resulted in a delay in settlement of up to 4 years and has led to both an increased settlement for my client and also substantially increased costs on both sides. It was ill-advised to seek to defend this case at the outset, let alone all the way until 3 weeks before Trial, and I am at an utter loss in trying to understand the thinking behind the way this case was managed by the defence.”