Privy Council rules in accident case …”INJURED COP AWARDED $3.6M”

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A police officer who was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident nine years ago, is to receive more than $3.6 million in damages and costs.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, on Monday, handed down judgment in favour of PC Davidson Ramsook against Carol Crossley.

The judgment was handed down by the Board comprising Lords Mance, Sumption,  Carnwath, Hodge, and Briggs.

According to Lord Mance who delivered the judgment, “This appeal is another sad illustration of problems that can arise from limits on the third party cover required by motor insurance legislation in Trinidad and Tobago.

He said the problems have in this case combined with an apparently deficient appreciation of insurers’ duties towards their insureds.

Crossley was insured against third party motor risks with Trinidad and Tobago Insurance Ltd (TATIL).

The Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act Chap 48:51 required her to be insured up to but not in excess of $1 million.

In fact, she was insured by TATIL up to $1.5 million. But, as a result of the way in which a third party claim against her by Ramsook was handled, judgment was in May 2011 given against her for damages to be assessed. Damages were in February 2013 assessed at some $3.6 million and she evidently only learned for the first time of both these facts when in July 2013 those acting for Ramsook, sought to enforce the judgment, and shortly afterwards threatened to bankrupt her.

Ramsook was a police officer travelling as a passenger in a police car PCJ 9154, with which vehicle PBW 8543 driven by Crossley collided after crossing the central line on 24 May 2009.

Ramsook was very grievously injured, being paralyzed from the chest down. On 21 September 2010, he commenced proceedings against Crossley and the Attorney General. On 16 May 2011, Justice Andre Des Vignes entered judgment against  Crossley for damages to be assessed, based on a defence admitting liability entered purportedly on Crossley’s behalf by an attorney, Rennie Gosine, instructed by TATIL. On 17 May 2011, TATIL paid into court $1 million.

This equated with the amount “required to be covered” that Ramsook could, following a judgment against Crossley, recover directly from TATIL. Any additional sum awarded by the judgment and covered by insurance could only be recovered either (a) from Crossley, leaving her to recover it from her insurers, or (b), if she did not pay, then, after bankrupting her, by taking advantage of the statutory assignment of her insurance rights.

On 4 February 2013, Master Patricia Sobion-Awai assessed damages in a total of $3,614,197.70 and awarded costs of $127,112.96. She also ordered payment out of the $1 million in court. On or about 12 July 2013, as the judge found, Crossley learned of this decision from a letter dated 28 June 2013 delivered to her home by an attorney for Ramsook. On or about 30 July 2013, those representing Ramsook took steps to bankrupt Crossley.

In response, Crossley on 19 November 2013, issued an application supported by affidavit, in which she maintained that she had not been served in the proceedings and had known nothing of them. She sought an order setting aside the judgment entered on 16 May 2011, and granting her leave to enter an appearance within eight days, and to file a defence within 28 days.

On 19 January 2015, Justice Des Vignes, after hearing oral evidence, accepted  Crossley’s case on the facts. She had not been served and Gosine had acted without authority. On that basis, des Vignes set aside the judgment he had entered on 16 May 2011 together with all subsequent proceedings.

An appeal by Ramsook was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 11 May 2015.  Ramsook appealed to the Judicial Committee which granted leave to pursue four grounds:

(1) whether TATIL had authority under the insurance policy issued to Crossley to enter an appearance on her behalf;

(2) whether des Vignes had jurisdiction to set aside his prior judgment;

(3) whether des Vignes was wrong in his findings on “the balance of prejudice”; and (4) whether his findings of fact could be supported.

A curiosity which the Board need not in the event further examine is that des Vignes was not asked to and did not actually set aside the appearance as being without authority, although that was the logical consequence of his conclusions of law and findings of fact.

Before the Board, an attorney made oral submissions on behalf of Ramsook.  Crossley had notified the Board that she was for financial reasons unable to afford representation. The Board expresses its gratitude in these circumstances for the careful assistance rendered it by Mr Thomas Roe QC, who appeared as a friend of the court.

After hearing submissions, the appeal was allowed. Justice Des Vignes’s judgment dated 16 May 2011 and Master Sobion-Awai’s assessment of damages dated 4 February 2013 have been restored.

The Board has invited submissions as to costs within 28 days.
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