Thursday 22 February 2018

Mark Pollock: 'I sued my friends knowing that they wouldn't lose one penny'

Mark Pollock outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London
Mark Pollock outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London

An adventurer who became the first blind man to reach the South Pole is in line for multi-million-pound compensation after falling out of a window during the Henley Regatta.

Mark Pollock sued his friends, Enda and Madeline Cahill, after the 25-foot plunge onto the patio of their home in the Oxfordshire town during the July 2010 regatta.

Today, after a week-long trial at London's High Court, Mr Justice William Davis upheld his claim against the couple.

The ruling means Mr Pollock will receive massive compensation from the Cahills' household insurers to cover the costs of all the care and assistance he will need for life.

Later this morning, Mr Pollock released a statement to explain that he believed taking the case was “the right thing to do in the circumstances”.

He also said that suggestions that he was suing his friends “were misleading and provocative”.

“My claim was made where there was a public liability insurance policy in place to meet the cost of accidents like mine. Most house insurance policies contain such cover for this exact purpose. Therefore the insurance company’s solicitors defended the case. My friends did not have to hire their own solicitors. They did not have any legal costs. They were never at risk of having to compensate me from their own pockets for the costs I bear as a result of my injury.”

He added: “It is important to me that you know that I expressly limited my claim for damages to the cap on my friends’ insurance policy. This is a fraction of the financial cost I bear as a result of the fall. But I did not think it fair that my friends would have even one moment of worry that they would have to personally pay me a penny.”

In the statement, Mr Pollock explained to his charity followers: “Whatever the court’s judgment I wanted to explain to you why I took this case. To talk as directly as possible with all of you who’ve supported me to build a life after paralysis; those who contribute to the Mark Pollock Trust and who are involved in Run in the Dark.”

Mr Pollock’s accident struck soon after his return from the 1,400-mile Round Ireland Yacht Race and just weeks before he was due to marry his fiancée, Simone George.

The 39-year-old Commonwealth Games medal winner was staying with Mr and Mrs Cahill when he fell through the window of his upstairs bedroom, suffering catastrophic spinal injuries.

His legal team, led by Mr Christopher Wilson-Smith QC, blamed Mr and Mrs Cahill at London's High Court, saying the window should never have been left open.

The accident left Mr Pollock paralysed, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on care.

Mr Pollock earlier told the court he had no memory of the accident but that he was probably 'on his way to the bathroom and was disorientated and tripped out the window'.

However, the Cahills, of Woodview, Remenham Lane, Henley, have always denied the accident was in any way their fault.

Their barrister, Stephen Grime QC, described it as 'a freak combination of circumstances' which no one could have foreseen and for which 'no one can or should be blamed'.

Later today in his statement Mr Pollock said his claim was the culmination of a process that took almost five years. The costs when anyone is paralysed run to the millions, he said.

“I was told to check all possible sources of insurance and home insurance policies. So, as part of the process, I established that my friends had home insurance to meet my claim,” he said.

He said the Mark Pollock Trust’s mission soon became to find and connect people worldwide to fast track a cure for paralysis.

“Most recently we employed a research scientist to help build a spinal cord injury research program in Dublin.”

“Those involved with the Trust also felt it was not right to ask individuals for financial support if I did not pursue this insurance policy in place for the very purpose of covering some of the costs associated with my injury. The only reason not to continue with the case was that it would be tough on everyone concerned.  Of course, no one wants to have to involve their friends, or family for that matter, in litigation.”

“But the insurer would not discuss settlement of my claim and it became clear they would only pay if a judge sitting in court after a full hearing established legal liability. My solicitor issued proceedings and I instructed him to write to the insurance company’s solicitors to tell them that I was limiting my claim to the value of the policy and that they must tell my friends this, which they did,” he added.

He said “no money at all from either the Mark Pollock Trust, Run in the Dark or any other fundraising done in my name has been used to finance this case in any way, ever”.

“I hope you understand that I took this case because it was not right to carry out public fundraising without also making a claim on a public liability policy in place for the purpose of covering some of my care and rehabilitation costs.”

“I took both expert advice and advice from my friends and many of you who have supported me through some really tough decisions, but ultimately I took this case because I believed that it was the right thing to do in the circumstances.”

Earlier in court, querying Mr Pollock's theory about his fall, the barrister said he might have leaned out of the window or even been sleep-walking.

However, Mr Wilson-Smith insisted that the 'only sensible interpretation' of the evidence was that 'this accident was caused because the window was left open'.

An 'open window at that height, without warning, constituted a trap. He was snared by that trap and he sustained his injuries', he told the court.

He said there was not a 'shred of evidence' that Mr Pollock was sleep-walking or believed that he was climbing out of a cabin or hatch on a boat.

Mr Pollock, lost his sight in 1998 at the age of 22 but went on to win bronze and silver medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

He has taken part in extreme marathons and Ironman events and, since his fall, has helped pioneer use of robotic legs..

Mr Pollock's lawyers say he has limited his damages claim to the amount which can be recovered under the Cahills' household insurance.

He had done so with the express intention of ensuring that the couple did not have to pay out themselves.

The amount of his payout has yet to be assessed, but is bound to be a seven-figure sum given the costs of his long-term care.

Mr Justice Davis ruled that the open window created an obvious risk for a blind person, particularly on the second storey of a house with nothing to prevent a fall to the ground below.

He ruled: "I am satisfied that the Cahills failed to discharge the common law duty of care they owed as occupiers.

"The open window was a real risk to Mr Pollock.  They created that risk".

Mr Pollock's lawyers confirmed outside court that he had limited his claim to a maximum of £2 million, the limit of the Cahills' household insurance.

Given the extent of his lost earnings and future care needs, that was only a fraction of the total value of his claim.

His solicitor, Ben Rogers, said outside court: “Mark Pollock is a remarkable man and has conducted himself with the utmost integrity in relation to this claim and in relation to his paralysis.

"Coupled with his pre-accident blindness, the incident has left him with enormous challenges in his life.”

He added: "Mark limited the sum claimed in damages to the limit of his friends’ insurance policy, so that they would not have to pay anything personally.

"The claim was therefore limited to a fraction of its full value.

"The damages that Mark will recover are essential to assist him with his additional care and rehabilitation needs following the accident".

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