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Jem Stansfield awarded £1.6m in damages in High Court battle with BBC

BBC to pay presenter, 50, £1.6 million in damages after he suffered brain and spinal injuries playing the role of a ‘crash test dummy’ for a science programme

  • Jem Stansfield, 50, sued the BBC after sustaining life-changing injuries on set
  • The inventor was injured while filming  BBC science show Bang Goes The Theory
  • Court heard injuries meant he missed out on £3m in potential future earnings 
  • Mrs Justice Yip found it ‘astonishing’ that BBC went ahead with experiment
  • Mr Stansfield was awarded £1.6 million in damages from High Court on Friday  

A television presenter that suffered brain damage whilst working as a ‘crash test dummy’ has been awarded £1.6 million in damages, following a High Court battle with the BBC.

Jem Stansfield, 50, sustained life-changing injuries while filming an episode of BBC popular science show Bang Goes the Theory, during which he was strapped into a specially designed rig and catapulted along a track and into a metal pole to mimic the effect of hitting a lamp-post in a car.

The inventor, who has a degree in aeronautics from Bristol University, said he suffered spine and brain injuries and lost more than £3 million in potential future earnings.

The BBC disputed Mr Stansfield’s damages claim.

Jem Stansfield (pictured) leaving the Royal Courts of Justice, London, during his High Court damages fight with the BBC after getting hurt while working on Bang Goes the Theory

Mr Stansfield (above), who has a degree in aeronautics from Bristol University, said he suffered spine and brain injuries and lost more than £3 million in potential future earnings

While filming an episode of BBC popular science show Bang Goes the Theory, Mr Stansfield (above) was strapped into a specially designed rig and catapulted along a track and into a metal pole to mimic the effect of hitting a lamp-post in a car

Mr Stansfield (above), on set of the popular BBC show that caused him the life-changing injuries

Mrs Justice Yip oversaw a trial at the High Court in London earlier this year and delivered a ruling on Friday.

‘I have found that the claimant was caused injury to his brain, spine and audio-vestibular system in the crash tests,’ she said in her ruling.

‘While none of the physical injuries were particularly severe, the combined effect together with a psychiatric reaction have caused a constellation of symptoms and problems which have produced a significant impairment in the claimant’s functioning.

‘The effect has been to derail the claimant’s successful career in television as well as to restrict his enjoyment of life more generally.’

She said there would be judgment for Mr Stansfield in the sum of £1,617,286.20.

Mrs Justice Yip said the parties had agreed that Mr Stansfield should recover ‘two-thirds of the damages assessed as being caused by injuries he sustained when carrying out the crash tests’.

She said Mr Stansfield was now 50, and was 42 at the time of the crash tests. 

‘There is strong evidence that prior to the crash tests he was an exceptionally fit man,’ she said.

‘Video footage from the time shows that he was slim but with strong musculature.

‘There are clips of him balancing and walking on his hands and scaling a building using vacuum gloves he created.

‘In 2012, the BBC required him to undergo a physical assessment before undertaking a project involving a human powered aircraft, which he had designed.

‘The results suggested he was performing at the level of a competitive athlete.’

Mrs Justice Yip said Mr Stansfield, who is known as ‘Jem’, was a presenter on the ‘popular’ Bang Goes The Theory show.

She said he was an engineer by background.

‘This claim arises out of the making of an episode of Bang Goes The Theory in which the claimant assumed the role of a human ‘crash test dummy’ for a feature about the relative safety of forward and rearward-facing child car seats.

Mr Stansfield (pictured) is now 50, and was 42 at the time of the crash tests, and Mrs Justice Yip said, ‘there is strong evidence that prior to the crash tests he was an exceptionally fit man’

Mr Stansfield (above) said he had been left with a constellation of symptoms which had produced a significant decline in his health

‘During filming on February 8 2013, the claimant conducted a series of crash tests.

‘He was strapped into a rig like a go-cart which was propelled along a track into a post.

‘In the introduction to the piece, the claimant explains that he had calculated the experiment to give a similar crash profile to hitting a lamppost in a real car in an urban environment.

‘The crashes were performed forwards and backwards twice each.

‘It is not in dispute, and perhaps not surprising, that the claimant suffered some injury.

‘What is contentious is the extent of that injury and the consequences for the claimant.’

Following the ruling, Mrs Justice Yip said she found it ‘astonishing’ that anyone thought that the ‘exercise’, in which presenter Jeremy Stansfield simulated a road traffic collision, was a ‘sensible idea’. 

The judge said there was evidence that the BBC had been warned of the danger, yet allowed the experiment to proceed.

Mr Stansfield said he had been left with a constellation of symptoms which had produced a significant decline in his health.

Mrs Justice Yip said the BBC contended that ‘little more than a moderate whiplash injury with depressive symptoms could properly be attributed to the crash tests, such as would give rise to only modest damages’.

Mrs Justice Yip added: ‘I must say that I find it astonishing that anyone thought that this exercise was a sensible idea.

The judge said she had ‘not been required to determine liability’ for the injuries sustained by Mr Stansfield (above)

Following the ruling, the BBC said they have made ‘safety adjustments’ following the 2013 incident.

‘On his own account to camera, the claimant was simulating a road traffic collision of the sort that commonly causes injury.

‘It might be thought that someone of his intelligence and scientific background might have appreciated the risk.

‘Indeed, in the finished piece, he rather prosaically observes, ‘I wouldn’t recommend this’.

‘Equally, there was evidence that the BBC had actively sought advice, been warned of the danger, yet allowed the experiment to proceed.’

The judge said she had ‘not been required to determine liability’ for the injuries sustained by Mr Stansfield.

‘That aspect of the case was resolved by agreement between the parties,’ she said.

‘They have agreed to share responsibility for the injuries and resultant losses flowing from the crash tests to the extent that the BBC will meet two-thirds of the claim.’

She said her task had been to make findings ‘as to the nature and extent of the claimant’s injuries and to assess the resultant damages’.

Following the ruling, the BBC said they have made ‘safety adjustments’ following the 2013 incident. 

A BBC spokesman said after the ruling: ‘We take the health and wellbeing of everyone who works for the BBC extremely seriously. 

‘We keep safety measures on set under constant review and we made adjustments following the incident in 2013.

‘We acknowledge the court’s judgment in this complex case and wish Mr Stansfield the best for the future.’ 

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