A young product designer who sustained a life-changing spinal cord injury has secured an important financial settlement, providing him with access to rehabilitation and enabling his return to work. International Injury lawyers Christopher Deacon and James Griffin, who represented Liam, review his case and share how its outcome has empowered him to embrace the future and his life beyond injury.
At the time of his injury, Liam was a 26-year-old graduate at the start of his career as a product designer. Liam was a fit and active young man who loved sport and adventure, regularly taking part in rugby, skateboarding and snowboarding. Before settling down to start his career in design, Liam had spent two years as a snowboarding instructor in Canada.
On 20 January 2020, Liam was spending the afternoon in a pub in the rural town of Kingsbury Episcopi. A local farmer was also at the pub with his 11-tonne Caterpillar telehandler, which he had been using to assist the pub landlord with accessing and changing the pub’s sign. Once the job was done, Liam’s group decided to move on to another pub in the village. Liam and an acquaintance climbed into the bucket of the telehandler and asked the defendant to transport them down the road.
Liam was unaware that the telehandler was not insured and that the driver had recently removed the brake control unit. During the short journey, the telehandler went over a bump in the road, causing Liam to be thrown from its bucket. He struck the rim of the telehandler bucket before falling to the ground. After Liam landed on the road, the telehandler continued forward, with the rear offside wheel driving over him.
Liam was treated at the scene by Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance before being admitted to Southmead Hospital. Liam remained in the intensive care unit for four weeks, during which time he suffered two cardiac arrests. After waking from a medically induced coma, Liam spent another two months at Southmead Hospital. He was then transferred to the Salisbury Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Unit, where he remained for seven months.
During his time in hospital and at the rehabilitation unit, Liam contracted numerous infections and spent much of his rehabilitation in isolation from other patients. Liam’s injuries included a spinal cord injury resulting in T4 incomplete paraplegia, very severe heterotopic ossification around the right hip, permanent bladder dysfunction requiring self-catheterisation and a loss of sexual function. Liam’s treating pelvic surgeon described the injuries suffered as the most serious and complex he had ever come across.
Instruction of Stewarts
Liam is a dual United States and UK citizen and had considered moving to the United States as part of his career development. Liam therefore instructed Stewarts’ specialist international injury partner Christopher Deacon and associate James Griffin to pursue his personal injury claim.
As the defendant’s telehandler was uninsured for use on the road, Stewarts made early contact with the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) under the terms of the Uninsured Drivers Agreement.
Funding for rehabilitation
Stewarts swiftly secured interim payments and rehabilitation funding for Liam, working collaboratively with the MIB to meet Liam’s immediate needs. Liam was initially discharged to his family home in rural Kingsbury Episcopi. Receiving early interim payments allowed Liam to move into accessible rented accommodation in the centre of Bristol. This granted him a greater level of independence and access to the community.
Belinda Memmott, Rehabilitation Manager at Proclaim Care, was instructed to oversee Liam’s rehabilitation. A care package was put in place and private hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, a dietician, access to a gym, occupational therapy and vocational therapy were arranged. Private consultations for orthopaedic surgery, urology and psychology were also arranged, enabling Liam to promptly access the medical treatment he needed given the significant NHS waiting lists due to the pandemic.
The interim funding allowed Liam to return to his personal interests, including bodyboarding at an inland surf centre, The Wave in Bristol.
Liam worked extremely hard throughout his rehabilitation. With the support of his therapy team, he made sufficient progress with his mobility to enable him to complete a two-mile sponsored charity walk while using a walker. In doing so, he raised money for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance team, who he credits with having saved his life at the scene of the accident.
Return to work
Having suffered his accident in the early stages of his design career, Liam was keen to return to work as soon as possible. Liam’s job was previously half desk-based, with half of his time spent testing designs on a factory floor. With assistance from his case manager and Stewarts, Liam was able to agree suitable adaptations to his work arrangements, allowing him to return to work for his former employer on a part-time basis from early 2022.
Liam’s reduced hours, adaptations to his working environment and ability to work from home allowed him to reengage with his career while still having time to recuperate and maintain the excellent progress he had made with his rehabilitation.
Settlement in Liam’s case was reached in April 2022, shortly after the commencement of High Court proceedings. The settlement followed a collaborative working relationship between Stewarts and the solicitors acting for the MIB during the case. The settlement will ensure that Liam’s ongoing therapy, medical treatment and equipment requirements can be met for the rest of his life. The settlement will also enable Liam to purchase and adapt a home to suit his needs.
Nearly one year after his settlement, Liam continues to work a four-day week. He is enjoying life and starting to reengage with the outdoor sports he loved so much before the accident. On a recent trip to Lake Michigan, Liam was able to enjoy kayaking and fishing. He also plans to purchase adapted skis to allow him back onto the slopes next season.
“I am very grateful for all the assistance that Chris and James have provided me over the last few years. I do not know where I would be now if it were not for the help Stewarts have provided.
“The months following my accident were incredibly difficult. The pandemic and various infections in my rehab unit meant I spent long periods in isolation. There were times when I thought I would never be able to do anything I enjoyed ever again. Being able to go kayaking and fishing is just incredible. The support Chris and James provided in investigating all manner of various adaptive sports equipment and fighting for their inclusion in my damages claim was fantastic. I always felt that my own suggestions were being listened to and kept as a priority.
“Chris and James even assisted with my return to work, taking advice from their employment law colleagues regarding reasonable adaptations required to allow me to get back to work. They were always available to speak to me and to explain what was happening in my case. I felt that they were always there to fight my corner. Their support continued post-settlement, putting me into contact with financial advisors who were able to assist in ensuring my settlement works best for my circumstances.
“I hope there are many more trips and adventures to come. I am looking forward to trying out adaptive skiing next, so watch out on the slopes!”
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