I long ago lost track of the number of cases I’ve handled or been otherwise involved in. Some stick in your mind for one reason or another. The facts may have been unusual, or the outcome particularly good. One has stayed with me because I regret it despite getting a good outcome.
I had a brief and inglorious career as a defence lawyer in the workers’ compensation system. A large part of my work involved opposing claims for weekly payments and medical expenses by injured workers. In the case I am thinking of, the plaintiff was a fellow who was in his late 20s at the time of the hearing. He had broken one ankle in a work accident and been on payments for some years. The ankle had lead to other problems due to the change in his gait, and so he had progressed from an ankle fusion to multiple other fusions of the bones in his foot. I can’t remember now, but I expect he would have been developing problems in his knee, hip and back for the same reason.
The workers’ compensation insurer (my client) had stopped his weekly payments on the basis that he could return to some form of work. I found that implausible: he had left school early and had shown no aptitude for retraining. It was difficult to see him in any line of work that didn’t involve having a sound body. Moreover, his accident had involved no negligence and so he could not sue for common law damages. Weekly payments would be his only form of recompense.
Despite all of this, my client’s instructions were clear: we could negotiate a further limited period of payments, failing which he would have to run his case. So, off I went to court on the hearing day. I expect we made some trifling offer to begin with. Eventually we offered the limit of our instructions. Now, I was secretly hoping his lawyers would tell us to get knotted. If they’d run the case, I had no doubt we would have lost, have lost badly, and would have deserved to lose badly. To my amazement, however, our offer was accepted and the case settled.
I’ve always regretted this outcome. Yes, I know the justifications: I was there to carry out my client’s instructions. He was represented by an experienced barrister and competent solicitors. And it was the plaintiff’s case to fight or compromise. I don’t find any of those terribly satisfactory. No matter how you gloss it over, there’s no honour in ripping off an injured worker.