Anthony – Accident at work

Case handler: Matthew Dixon (Senior Solicitor)

In this case, our client was involved in a workplace incident which resulted in very serious head and spinal injuries.

Key elements of our client’s case

Our client was an experienced engineer who worked for a train company in a depot where trains were serviced and maintained.

On the day of the incident, he was working on a small platform in front of a train which was positioned over a long inspection pit which was about 1.5m deep. He was trying to free up a connecting bar on the front of the train when it suddenly came free as he was pulling it. The sudden release caused him to fall backwards into the inspection pit where he landed on his head, splitting his scalp open.

He was bleeding heavily but did not lose consciousness. He was taken to hospital for treatment. Remarkably, despite the head injury, his wound was stitched but he was not sent for any radiological investigations and was discharged despite being in severe pain. A day or two after the accident, he remained in severe pain and went to hospital again. This time he did have radiological investigations and it was determined that he had sustained at least one fracture to his neck along with possible spinal cord damage compressing the nerves in the neck.

His problems continued and eventually he had to undergo spinal surgery (on two occasions) to remove a disc from his neck and to remove any structures compressing the nerves in his neck.

Despite the extent of his injuries, he was reluctant to pursue a claim against his employer as they were closing the depot and he was concerned that he would lose his job and also that his son, who worked at the same depot, may also lose his job. He delayed contacting us for 6 months and even after he had instructed us, he delayed agreeing to send the Letter of Claim for a further 6 months.

Where our specialist serious injury experience really added value to our client’s situation

Liability was strenuously denied throughout by the defendant with them blaming our client entirely for the accident on the basis that he had failed to put a ‘safety barrier’ in place. They maintained the barrier would have completely prevented his fall. Our client contended that the ‘safety barrier’ was rarely used by him or other employees when working on the platform. He contended that it was a ‘handrail’ which was only used when there was no train above the pit.

Extensive investigations were made in relation to liability including obtaining a significant amount of disclosure and witness statements from colleagues who still worked for the defendant. Expert reports were also commissioned from specialised train depot engineers.

Proceedings were issued with the defendants continuing to deny liability. We continually invited the defendant to consider a settlement of the claim, but they were steadfast in their dispute and never made any offers. Offers we made on behalf of our client seeking an early resolution of the claim were ignored.

Reaching settlement

Our client’s case was listed for a five-day trial on liability and the value of our client’s claim. The preparations for the trial were demanding as the defendant made a very late application for permission to replace one of their medical experts, with an expert in the same discipline as our client’s expert, and also to rely on video surveillance they had taken of our client. The defendants were granted permission which meant that an extremely tight timetable of formalities had to be completed before the trial start date.

The trial lasted for the full five days. There were a total of sixteen lay witnesses including our client as well as oral expert evidence from the care experts and from the medical experts for both sides. Upon completion of the five-day trial, the Judge advised that he would reserve judgment until such time as he had reviewed all the evidence presented.

Agonisingly for our client it took the learned Judge almost five months to ‘hand down’ his judgment. On balance the Judge concluded that the defendant was primarily at fault, but our client’s contributory negligence was assessed at 50%. Quantum was assessed on a full liability basis at a large seven figure sum with provisional damages also being awarded to our client should his condition deteriorate in specified ways in the future. Our client would therefore recover 50% of the value of his claim as assessed.

The defendant’s counsel sought leave to appeal but this was refused by the trial Judge.

The defendant then lodged an application for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. We lodged at Court a very robust defence to the application for leave to appeal in a statement in response. There was a further agonising wait for our client. Happily, the permission was refused, the case was finally concluded and our client received a significant payment of the sum awarded.

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