23 July 2023

$6 million awarded to man who survived fatal car crash as a baby

| Albert McKnight
Law Court

Driver Michael John Tipping was sued in the ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A man who suffered brain damage after a car crashed into the stationary vehicle he was inside when he was a baby, killing his pregnant mother, has been awarded $6 million in damages.

On 10 February 2003, the car 10-month-old Daniel Veasna Meas was in had stopped at traffic lights on Canberra Avenue when it was hit from behind by another vehicle driven by Michael John Tipping, the ACT Supreme Court’s Justice Geoffrey Kennett said.

Daniel’s mother Stacey Louise Meas, who was eight months pregnant, had been in the car with him and was killed in the accident

Her baby daughter Courtney Stacey Meas was delivered, but she only lived for a few days.

Daniel’s father Veasna Meas, who had also been in the car, was rendered unconscious and suffered injuries.

The force of the impact from the crash ejected Daniel from his baby capsule and he suffered serious injuries that require ongoing treatment. These injuries included one to his brain.

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The now-21-year-old sued Mr Tipping in the Supreme Court through his litigation guardian, Christine Anne Adcock.

In his published decision on Wednesday (19 July), Justice Kennett said it was not an issue that Mr Tipping was liable for negligence, but the court had to decide the amount of damages to be paid.

He said the 20-year delay in the case was because the ongoing effects of a brain injury suffered in infancy are difficult, if not impossible, to assess until the injured person reaches adulthood.

During the hearings for the case, those in Daniel’s life told the court that he struggled to complete tasks.

He also has difficulty learning, few interests outside computer games and no clear future plans.

Justice Kennett said his life did not produce much in the way of enjoyment and he was “effectively a recluse”.

Medical experts agreed he suffered from a neurocognitive disorder with executive dysfunction, with Justice Kennett finding it was of a “moderate” degree.

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The experts also agreed he had a chronic adjustment disorder with depressed mood that was connected to the grief that arose from the loss of his mother.

“He is sad when reminded of this loss and sometimes becomes emotional,” Justice Kennett said.

One of the medical experts, neurologist Dr Michael Harbord, noted that “children with brain injury are less resilient, more depressed and anxious than healthy children”.

The justice ultimately ordered a sum of $6,085,323 in favour of Daniel, which included loss of future income and superannuation, past out-of-pocket expenses, future out-of-pocket (including medical) expenses and future attendant care.

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