Personal injury lawyers must remember the importance of claimants’ leisure plans

By Bill Braithwaite QC

I have spent the past quarter of a century seeing families dealing with the victims of catastrophic brain injuries. The main focus of our discussions has been that they need to have a plan for the whole of an injured person’s life, even if that stretches over 50 years.

Because most of my clients are too badly injured to ever work, leisure becomes an important part of the plan. How will they fill their days with real enjoyment and without boredom and frustration?

I must have discussed an awful lot of leisure activities, and most of them are outdoors. One of my earliest clients became an avid fell walker, and that ticked all the boxes for him: exhilarating in all weathers, and giving a variable range of experience, wonderful settings, tranquillity, and healing.

Other outdoor activities known to make a positive difference include canoeing, hand biking, cycling, rock climbing, orienteering, sailing and horse riding.

So, when I discovered that a brain injury rehabilitation unit was to be opened in the Lake District, based on existing outdoor activities, I was excited about the role it could play in accelerating recovery from brain injury.

A wide range of research suggests that physical exercise has a positive effect on mental alertness, mood, self-esteem and self-worth in all age groups. Studies on the benefits of activity in addressing problems associated with traumatic brain injury also highlight improvements in self-confidence, increased control, memory and planning.

A British pilot programme involving participation in outdoor adventure courses revealed a high level of achievement on specific and mainly practical goals.

The strength of the project was partly in the motivation provided by the outdoor activity course, which encouraged participants to work towards broader goals. Motivation can be hugely important after a severe brain injury.

Experiential learning and rehabilitation through outdoor activity is about improvements in self-esteem, self-awareness and self-confidence, lifting of mood and clinical depression, as well as cognitive improvements. Importantly, learning can then be internalised and applied to daily life.

Every year in Britain, more than 300,000 people suffer life-changing brain injuries. They face a long and difficult road to recovery, often with limited support.

Thanks to advances by clinicians and academics, lawyers have the opportunity to support their brain-injured clients by recognising the value of rehabilitation programmes that incorporate physical activities in the outdoors.

As always, claimant lawyers should claim for the cost of optimal outdoor rehabilitation, coupled with maintenance top-up, for life.

Bill Braithwaite QC, is head of Exchange Chambers and a trustee of the Lake District Calvert Trust, where he is an adviser to Calvert Reconnections, Britain’s first intensive acquired brain injury rehabilitation centre.

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