When is a split trial appropriate in personal injury claims
It is common for parties in personal injury compensation claims to request a split trial, particularly in cases of substantial value. There may be various reasons, including dispute on liability, complex issues relating to causation or that quantum simply cannot be assessed for many years due to the claimant being a child or the injury is so severe that the full extent will not be known for a number of years. Usually, the issue of liability is tried first.
The judiciary is keen to accommodate this if it can be shown that a split trial would not only save time, but also costs whilst serving the interests of those involved. Each case is of course decided on a case by case basis.
The judiciary’s approach towards split trials was highlighted in the recent, unreported case of Hornsby-Clifton v Ministry of Defence (14 November 2014). The claimant pursued a claim for damages ranging from £2m to £4.4m against her former employers, the MOD for failing to provide adequate treatment after she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. This she alleged, resulted her in her leaving the army much sooner than she had anticipated. A seven day trial was listed for February 2015, but the claimant contended that the time estimate was insufficient and there were also outstanding issues in relation to her pension which could not be dealt with by then. Notwithstanding the potential value of the claim, Judge Reddihough concluded on the claimant’s application for a split trial, that there was “no good reason“ for this to take place. In his opinion, there were overlapping issues relating to causation and quantum. He held that the experts called for any trial on liability would essentially deal with issues relating to quantum. To order a split trial in this matter would in actual fact lead to increased costs as the experts would effectively have to be called twice. The same trial judge could deal with all the issues at the same time. Also, as the issues of liability and quantum were intertwined, there was a risk that a trial judge on quantum would not, were a split trial to be ordered, have the benefit of seeing witnesses on causation and liability. There was also the possibility that the case could be compromised if liability was found in the claimant’s favour without the need of a trial on quantum. Having taken all these factors into consideration, this was a case where it was felt a split trial was not appropriate.
The position is therefore that a split trial would only be granted if the claim is of substantial value, additional costs would not be incurred and the issues relating to liability and quantum are not overlapping so as to make it undesirable.