When a person secures compensation for injuries caused by the negligence of someone else, do they lose their entitlement to free assistance from their local authority? The Court of Appeal dealt with this question in the context of the Mental Health Act 1983.
The case concerned a man who was diagnosed with an organic personality disorder after he was knocked off his bicycle by a car. The disorder is characterised by a short-term or long-term personality disturbance caused by a physical malfunction of the brain. The motorist's insurance company accepted 90 per cent liability for the accident and the man was awarded damages totalling nearly £3.5 million, almost £2.9 million of which was to cover the costs of his future care.
At first, because of his condition, it was necessary for him to be compulsorily detained in a mental health nursing home. However, the judge who made the award rejected arguments that it should be reduced to take account of the fact that public authorities had a duty to provide for his future care under Section 117 of the Act.
After he was discharged from the nursing home, he had paid for his own accommodation. However, when it became clear that the extent of his care needs could result in his compensation running out, his legal deputy applied to the local authority to provide him with aftercare services free of charge. The council refused and the deputy commenced legal proceedings.
Following a preliminary hearing, a judge found that the council had acted unlawfully in refusing to provide aftercare services on the basis that the man had no need of such provision, being able to pay for it himself from his compensation settlement. The council challenged that ruling.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the council's challenge. It was neither 'immoral nor low principled' for the man to claim a benefit to which he was entitled by law. It did not follow that a compensation award made to enable him to pay for aftercare precluded him from applying to the council for free provision of such services. There was no legal basis for the council's argument that it was not obliged to provide the services claimed until the man's compensation was exhausted.
In light of the Court's decision, the man will be entitled to the relevant services free of charge and can sue the council for damages in respect of the lengthy period during which it failed to provide them.