The client was working on a building site in North Queensland when a 6 tonne frame of a mobile shade-cloth, the size of a large building, fell onto him. It impacted mainly his back, chest and left shoulder. Had he been standing, he would likely have been decapitated. The client was rushed to Rockhampton Hospital and transferred to the Royal Brisbane Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctors when the seriousness of his injuries emerged. The client suffered a traumatic dissection of the descending aorta with a periaortic haematoma, a compression fracture and burst fracture of L1 vertebrae with obliteration of spinal canal, a fracture of the L3 transverse process, fractured left shoulder blade, multiple left rib fractures with flail, left haemothorax (blood accumulating in the pleural cavity), a mild cerebral concussion, a chorda equina injury with paraparesis, loss of bladder and bowl control, impotence and a small splenic laceration. The client was now a paraplegic.
The recovery was long and complicated. The client was placed in a medically induced coma for two weeks, with persistent fevers and extreme neuropathic pain. This neuropathic pain has remained at the same severity since the accident with no significant relief from medications. After a month of recovery at the RBH the client was transferred to the Princess Alexandra Hospital Queensland Spinal Injuries Unit for rehabilitation. The client and his wife spent five months in the spinal injuries unit adjusting to his debilitating functional loss. They attended daily physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and gym sessions to build the strength and technique now required to perform the necessary daily activities. The client was then admitted to Transitional Rehabilitation Program for a month of rehab aimed at improving his independence and reducing his reliance upon his wife.
Finally, seven months after the accident, the client was discharged home. Since his return home he has attended constant physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture to improve his mobility and wellbeing.
The client is required to visit his GP every 10 days because of the restrictions on his opioid medication.
Spinal Cord Injury care involves management of a large number of secondary medical problems, including pressure ulcers, UTI’s, pain, spasticity, limited bowel and bladder control, respiratory complications, temperature management, obesity and diabetes. The client’s wife resigned from her job to become his voluntary 24 hour carer, she is a very positive person who has provided great support to him. Since caring for her husband she has started to experience bilateral shoulder and lower back pain. She has undergone physiotherapy and attended an osteopath. The client’s severe care dependency rating will continue into the foreseeable future.
The client will never work again, a distressing situation for the hard-worker who had never had a day off work. At the time of the accident he had 14 weeks sick pay and 10 weeks holiday pay owing to him.
While in the spinal unit, the client was told his neuropathic pain would last 4 months, it is still there today, several years later, with no indication it will cease. The pain is from his back but presents in the legs, feet and calves. The client takes 27 pills per day and up to 40 if pain is more extreme. Sometimes the pills don’t seem to work at all. The pain in lower limbs can be so bad that he stays in bed for days. His increased levels of pain adversely affects his psychological state, he will not manage his own medication as he does not trust himself not to overdose. The ongoing pain and medications to treat the client’s pain impact upon his concentration, memory and problem solving abilities.
There was no false hope given by the doctors about walking, it was all up to the client and how far he pushed himself. They told him that any movement or feeling below chest is a miracle. It took the client 9 months, concentrating 4 hours a day, to bend his right toe. He works at it every day, all day.
In terms of movement, he can now stand with something under arms, lift his left thigh and extend the leg, move his left ankle and left foot back. He believes he will soon be able to lift his whole left leg. He can wriggle toes on his right foot and move his right thigh.
Reaching a settlement in this matter was always going to be complicated. There were four parties who contributed to the unsecure and unsafe shade structure. We served a Notice of Claim for Damages under the Personal Injuries and Proceedings Act 2002 (Qld) (“PIPA”) upon the engineers who constructed the structure, the occupier of the premises, the contractor supervising the client, and a Notice of Claim under the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (“WCRA”) on the client’s employer.
We also felt it necessary to bring a loss of consortium claim for his wife under the PIPA for the loss of the services, companionship, love, affection and sexual relations enjoyed by the couple before the accident.
Approximately 11 months after the accident we went to mediation with the client, his wife and the four parties. After submissions on behalf of the client, the remaining four parties were left to determine what share of the damages they were liable for. In this mediation there was no dispute of the significance of his injuries, and the major question was how much compensation would the combined parties be prepared to pay, and the extent of the individual contributions by each.
After hours, the respondents were unable to reach a resolution. We exchanged mandatory final offers, theirs totaling $Nil and ours at $3,500,000.00. We intentionally made a well considered and reasonable offer on the high side of our expected range of damages, an offer they would find hard to resist.
After an anxious 10 days, the respondents jointly accepted our offer of $3,500,000.00. The clients were extremely happy; a favourable result was achieved without the delay and expense of going to trial. This settlement will never compensate the client’s for their immeasurable loss; however it will ensure their comfort and relieve any financial stress they may face in the future.
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