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Woman wins $500,000 injury payment from law firm after almost 20 years

A woman who suffered a serious back injury in the staff kitchen of a law firm has won more than $500,000 in damages.

Carla Jean Forth, represented in the Supreme Court by lawyer Sara-Ann Tucker, said the 2001 fall caused lingering back and hip pain that has left her unable to return to regular work.

Appleby – her former employer – accepted that the fall had contributed to her pain, but denied that their negligence was the sole cause of her condition.

But Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams said in Supreme Court written judgment that the law firm was to blame.

She said: “It would be unjust and inequitable to apportion any liability for loss and damages elsewhere.

“Proportional recovery is not an entitlement available where causation has been proven.”

The court earlier heard that Ms Forth, then 42, was an employee at Appleby on June 21, 2001 when she slipped and fell because a puddle of water in the staff kitchen area.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams said it was common ground that Ms Forth suffered injuries in the fall and had chronic pain syndrome, which has forced her to rely on a walking stick since 2005.

She said: “The impact of the chronic pain on Ms Forth’s life was not the subject of any challenge by the defence.

“It is most unlikely that Ms Forth will ever regain the competence to return to her previous physicality.

“Her reality is that she no longer enjoys interacting with her family and friends as she did prior to the 2001 fall.”

Mrs Justice Subair Williams added that Ms Forth has gone to specialists in Bermuda and the United States for treatment, but was only able to find temporary relief.

Jai Pachai, who represented Appleby, presented evidence that Ms Forth suffered a second fall while on holiday in 2002 and that a doctor said her age and weight had contributed to her pain.

Joseph Froncioni, an orthopaedic surgeon, wrote in a 2016 report that he had “no doubt” the fall was the trigger for her chronic pain syndrome.

Dr Froncioni estimated the fall was a “60 per cent contributing factor” for Ms Forth’s continued disability given her age, weight, evidence of spinal deterioration before her fall and the general frequency of back pain.

Mr Justice Subair Williams however found that Dr Froncioni’s 60 per cent estimation should not be taken as a legal analysis of the case.

She said: “It is a medical opinion on the composition of various factors which could have directly resulted in her present disability.

“On Dr Froncioni’s opinion evidence, the most material contributing factor to Ms Forth’s chronic pain was her fall.

“His view was that there were also other less significant factors which likely contributed to her chronic pain.”

Mrs Justice Subair Williams accepted the evidence that Ms Forth’s weight contributed to her injury, but her “vulnerability” could not be held against her.

The judge rejected the suggestion that the 2002 fall was the cause of the injury as the evidence showed the chronic pain started after the 2001 fall.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams said: “Ms Forth’s evidence before this court was that her back pain has been unrelenting since June 2001 and that the hip and thigh pain she experienced was non-existent prior to June 2001.

“I accept her evidence as reliable and truthful.

“Having considered the evidence in its totality, I find that it is most probably that Ms Forth would not have suffered the musculo-ligamentous injury and resulting chronic pain and psychological depression but for the defendant’s breach of statutory duty.”

Mrs Justice Subair awarded Ms Forth $80,000 for general damages along with additional sums for lost earnings, lost pension contributions, past and future medical expenses and cost of care.

But she highlighted the prolonged delay in the case, including an eight-year period where the case was dormant.

Mrs Justice Subair said Ms Forth was entitled to interest on the general damages for four of the eight years the case was dormant because of the delays.

She also awarded Ms Forth part interest on the special damages, including lost earnings, lost pension, past medical expenses, insurance premiums and adjustments to her cars and home to accommodate her condition.

The total sum awarded between general and special damages was $505,948.87 plus interest.