Mark Pollock has damages claim against friends upheld
Claim will be limited to £2 million to save the Cahills from paying anything personally
Mark Pollock at the ‘fail better’ exhibition in Trinity’s Science Gallery last year. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Adventurer Mark Pollock, who was left paralysed after falling through the upstairs window of his friends house, is in line for multi-million-pound compensation after a judge has upheld his claim against Enda and Madeline Cahill.
The 39-year-old Commonwealth Games medal winner, who was the first blind man to reach the South Pole, was staying with the couple in their London home in 2010 when he fell through an open window, 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.
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 loss of 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.”
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”.
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.
In a statement on his blog today, Mr Pollock explained why he chose to sue his friends, saying:
“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 or incur 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, the case was expressly limited to the cap on their insurance policy.
Spinal cord injury is described as a ‘catastrophic injury’ because not only is it horrific for its physical and life-altering aspects, it is also prohibitively expensive.
“I was advised 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.”
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 the use of robotic legs.