a. A highly dangerous chemical –
Nigel was an employee at a chemical factory on Merseyside where he had only been employed a number of weeks but was highly experienced in the industry. He was not provided with any adequate training or protective equipment nor was he told of how dangerous the chemical of Methyl Iodide was that he was having to deal with.
This chemical could pass through the skin of a person or its vapour inhaled through the lungs and was both colourless and odourless.
Nigel was working in close proximity to the chemical which had leaked from containers near where he was working. He was exposed to the chemical without his knowledge. He went home that night and felt faint and nauseous and a little dizzy but though he was perhaps a bit tired and over worked and that he would sleep off any of the symptoms.
The next day he continued in the same environment and the exposure continued unnoticed such that he fell into a coma and had to be rushed to hospital .He remained in intensive care for a number of days and was diagnosed with having suffered damage to his brain.
He was found to be one of 12 people world wide to have had such extensive exposure to this chemical and as such there was very limited experience in how to treat him or research into the long-term prognosis
b. Serious life changing injuires –
Nigel was released from hospital to be cared for by his wife. He was unable to walk any distance unaided and he was unable to speak as he had before his speech was slowed down , slurred and he had problems forming words such that at first only his wife could understand him. His short term memory was affected and he was suffered pain through his body running down his spine, limbs and arms and hands. The hospital struggled to give him any diagnosis and he was referred to numerous specialist in the fields of neurology, neuropsychology , rheumatology, orthopaedics, as well being referred for speech and language therapy. He was unable to return to any form of work due to the serious mobility problems and the severe on going pain that he was suffering. The Methyl iodide apart from damaging legions in his brain also attacked the various internal organs of his body and in particular damaged the peripheral and central nervous system. Nigel couldn’t get upstairs in his home without great difficulty and pain and had to move into the front room to sleep. This also had a major impact on his wife and two children who were both going through their GCSE’s.
c. The defendant company and Insurer’ response.
The Health and Safety Executive investigated and decided to take the company to court for serious breaches of the regulations and as a result they were fined following a hearing at the Mold Magistrates.Attached is the report into the incident by ITV which includes my statement which I made on behalf of the family to the press who were gathered outside after the hearing.
Despite the heavy censure by the court system the insurers refused to accept responsibility trying to argue Nigel should not have gone back into work after feeling unwell the night before he was made unconscious due to the exposure the night before as if he could have known that he was being exposed to such potentially fatal chemicals having not been aware of the exposure or for that matter how deadly this chemical was. They also tried to argue he was not wearing protective clothing which was surprising and very upsetting to Nigel as he had not been provided with any such clothing in fact the level of the exposure was such that no amount of protective clothing would have helped.
I had to issue proceeding in the court as soon as we had an initial report from a medical expert setting out his symptoms and applied for what is known as “Summary Judgement” which is available for a claimant where it is obvious there is no defence to any claim and I was successful and with this I was able to secure also an order that the Insurer provided an interim payment to Nigel to help him pay for his ongoing bills and household expenses but also so I could organise a Case Manager to be brought in to set up private helath care referrals to Nigel to various consultants to help the on going investigations into his condition and get to the bottom of the event of his nerve and brain damage. This enabled him to get Speech and language therapy on a weekly basis together with physiotherapy and support to give his wife some respite as she had been left doing everything for him.
d. Private help and care-
It is often argued by Insurers and the national press that claimants pursue compensation only due to the pursuit of money and that why shouldn’t a wife or loved one simply look after their injured partner and rely on the NHS. The object in this case as in all my cases is to try to put the injured person AND his family and loved ones back in the position before they were injured due to the negligence of another be it a driver of a car or as in this case a company which was badly run and failed to protect it’s employees despite asking them to work with potentially lethal chemicals such as Methyl Iodide. Why should n’t Nigel’s relationship with his wife and family be as it was before he was injured ? It was not fair to simply expect his wife to stop being his partner and the love of his life and become a nurse, carer, case manager and organiser of his life. It was not and also is not fair to expect someone with such devastating injuries through no fault of their own to have to join the lengthy queues and vagaries of the badly funded NHS.
The interim funds from the Insurer helped pay for what was needed to ensure that Nigel could have the best care that was available and could see a consultant without having to wait as he attempted to get back as best he could to the position he was in befoe this exposure to the chemical.
e. Gradual improvement but no recovery-
Nigel did gradually improve as he had the treatment and therapy and rehabilitation he needed. His speech improved but he was still slow and slurred but at least he could now be understood. He was able to gradually walk a bit further losing his crutches but still needing a stick. But the recovery reached a plateau and those treating him and the experts who I instructed to assess him all agreed he would not get any better and the brain damage had left him with subtle changes in his behaviour and memory from which he would never recover. He wanted to move to a new house with ground floor accommodation but deiced not to seek funds from the insurer for this until his case was over as he was uncertain as to what he would recover in compensation and the Insurers continued in their negative attempts to undermine his claim and to shift their responsibility to avoid having to compensate him for what he needed.
f. The Insurer’s attitude to Nigel-
The insurer continued to be difficult and defensive in their attitude towards this matter. They tried to argue that as the experts were uncertain with the ultimate prognosis as Nigel was one of only 12 people worldwide who had suffered such extensive exposure to this dreaded chemical they argued his symptoms were psychological and that he was not as disabled as he was saying. They instructed a an enquiry agent to snoop on Nigel and these people spent many months recording him at the gym where he was having physio- the only apparatus he could use was one for strengthing his arms, they followed him and his wife going to the shops , sitting in a cafe and out and about with their beloved dogs and with their children desperately trying to show he was not as disabled as he maintained. Hours of Vidoe footage was produced typically after the medical reports and statements we had obtained on Nigel had been disclosed in the attempt to undermine his case. But the videos showed nothing other than evidence of his on going disability he was always using his stick and he was seen walking slowly and carefully and shown how he was desperate to try to get better and in the end if anything this evidence was a strong help to his case.
They rummaged and searched through his medical records from his GP to try to find an argument to support their contention his problems were all psychological but they found nothing.
g. Onwards to trial and the result-
I pressed on with the case for Nigel we set a date for the trail and secured further interim funds to help him and close to the trial date the Insurer asked for a meeting with Nigel and his Legal team. We set up a Joint Settlement Meeting where we sat with Nigel and his wife in a room at our Barristers chambers and the Insurer sat in another room with their legal team offers were made but rejected by Nigel following our advice we nade our counteroffer to at least try to see if this case could be resolved without a trial but this was rejected, The meeting ended and we went home. This was the Christmas of 2015 and just before the office closed another offer was made Nigel was wanting the case to be resolved but he stuck to his guns with guidance from myself and his barrister Winston Hunter QC.
It was a difficult Christmas and new year for him and his family as we were close to settlement but not yet sorted this case out for what was the right figure to reflect the on going problems he would have in the future. It should be remembered Nigel was only in his 40’S and would ever be able to work again, he would need new alternative and expensive ground floor accommodation which would need to be also adapted, He would need to pay for the ongoing private health care and support and his case manager . The insurer finally in the new year when we had returned to the office and just before the trial was to be fixed offered a settlement which was the right figure and was one both Nigel and his legal team were happy to accept.