PSLA awards on the rise – David John Slater v Commissioner of Police (HCPI 646/2012)
In this edition we consider a recent judgement where the Court indicated that awards for moderate back injuries should start at $320,000, which is a significant increase from the previous $250,000.
The plaintiff in this case had a moderate back sprain injury. He was a Chief Inspector of the Marine Division of the Hong Kong Police. At the material time, he was acting as a lookout and was standing at the port side of the vessel when it was hit by a big wave. He alleged that the upper part of his body was forced towards his left side while the lower part was forced towards the right. Although the plaintiff did not fall onto the ground or bump into anything, he felt sharp pain at the lower back region and on the left side of his buttock.
The orthopaedic experts agreed he suffered from a sprain injury to the low back and prolapsed intervertebral disc at L5/S1 level. His main symptom was constant pain and discomfort in the lower back and he was only able to sit for about 20 minutes. He had to use his arms to support his upper body in order to relieve the pain and he also had to give up his hobby of playing rugby every week and golf every month.
In assessing the damages, Bharwaney J remarked that the award for PSLA had not increased in line with inflation over the years. Cases falling within the Serious Injury category as defined in Lee Ting Lam should now start at HK$530,000, which is an increase from the amount of HK$510,000 allowed in 2015 and $413,000 in 2008. Applying the same percentage increase to the plaintiff’s claim, the court ruled that the award for PSLA in the plaintiff’s case should be HK$320,000. However, given the plaintiff only claimed HK$250,000, that was the amount he was awarded.
This increased starting point for PSLA awards has been followed in subsequent cases. In Rai Raj Kumar v Pacific Crown Security Services Ltd (HCPI 312/2016), the court awarded HK$380,000 for osteochondral fracture and radial collateral ligament tear (knee) while HK$220,000 was allowed for lower back sprain in Ng Ning Fu v Leader Engineering & Construction Ltd (HCPI 173/2015).
In light of the above, defendants can expect to see increased damages being awarded for PSLA. It is likely that back sprain injuries will start at around $250,000 and increase to $320,000 if slightly more severe and if there is a psychiatric element, awards could go up to $380,000 or above.