Relationships and the seriously injured person - facing life after a serious injury in the family

Possibly the most difficult topic to discuss with families is where the injured person has a spouse, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend. For example, if a married man suffers a severe brain injury, he will probably return home where his wife will look after him. At first they may hope for, and expect, full recovery, or at least major improvement. Gradually the awful truth dawns; the residual deficits are huge, and have a terrible effect on the life and behaviour of the injured person. As the months and years go by, the situation must sometimes seem increasingly desperate. The only way out may be divorce or separation, and sadly that is what often happens. There is a statistical probability that this will be the outcome following severe brain injury to a married person, and I have certainly come across the problem several times. If this actually happens during the course of the claim for compensation, of course one can deal with the consequences by arranging for alternative family care, or professional care.

What is far more difficult is where the stress is obvious to the advisers, and the risk is clear, but disaster has not struck by the time of trial. What makes it so difficult is that this is the very last topic one wants to discuss with a family which is struggling to cope with all the problems. Also, if one did broach it, the family would probably assure you that they were managing alright, and divorce need not be considered. As a result, I think the courts, through no fault of their own, usually (though not always) overlook this contingency. One possible way round the difficulty is to seek the opinions of other family members; sometimes they can tell you just how difficult life is for the uninjured party, and a judge may be able to use that information to decide, on the balance of probabilities, that divorce is likely. However, it is effectively impossible to argue, in front of the client, that his or her spouse is likely to leave him or her, and therefore it may be difficult to pursue this point at trial even if there is evidence from the family as to the stress and strain. It can be done though, if it is necessary, in a confidential way. An alternative approach is to see whether the clinicians or experts have formed any view about whether the injured person and his partner will stay together. If they have a clear opinion, they might be helpful.