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Client credibility wins case for accident at work

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It is important that his or her legal team believes in their client and are prepared to take things as far as necessary to get the justice their client deserves.

That was the case with our client, Peter Wood, who suffered an accident at work. He was aged 64 at the time of the accident and had worked for his employer, a waste management company, as an HGV driver for over 10 years. His firm had agreed prior to the accident that he could work beyond the age of 65.

Peter had been a model employee and never gave his employer any cause for concern, whether in relation to matters of health and safety, the performance of his duties or, in particular, his honesty and integrity.

On the day of the accident, he was attempting to open the door of a container using the turnbuckle device provided. The mechanism did not operate as it was designed to do and he received a jolt or vibration through his hand, arm and shoulder.

The effect of this was to cause his shoulder muscles to contract violently and as a result he suffered a rotator cuff injury to his left shoulder. He was unable to return to work as an HGV driver and his employment was terminated. It was after this that he contacted Access Legal for help in making a claim, since he believed that his employer breached their duty of care towards him due to defective equipment.

Liability was denied by Peter's employer. Their defence was that the equipment was not defective and they did not believe Peter's account of what happened.

They commissioned 'expert evidence' to support that view and although they never actually said the claim was fraudulent, they strongly insinuated fraud without making that express allegation. In other words, their defence implied that Peter had lied about the circumstances of the accident.

Sharine Burgess, a senior solicitor specialising in personal injury with Access Legal who handled Peter's case, said:

'The most important initial step was to get a report from a medical expert that would not only confirm the nature and extent of Peter's injuries but in this case would also suggest or rule out possible mechanisms that could have caused those injuries.'

Expert engineering evidence was commissioned by the defendant during the case. The engineer did not accept that the accident could have occurred as alleged by Peter. However, he did not examine the actual container involved in Peter's accident as this could not be identified by the employer. As such, we argued that this 'expert' engineering evidence was of little or no value unless the actual container could be inspected in the condition it was at the time of the accident.

The attitude of Peter's employer was coloured by the conclusion of the engineering expert. Peter's manager was given a clear and consistent account of what happened on the day of the accident. However, he made unspecified 'other enquiries' and decided that Peter must have been standing in the wrong place and that he had been struck by the door of the container.

For this reason the manager wrote on the incident investigation form 'Pete had a lapse in concentration and stood in range of the door swing' even though Peter had said no such thing. In fact, it was physically impossible from where Peter had been standing by the turnbuckle mechanism for the door to have hit him and Professor Wallace could not find any evidence of bruising consistent with a strike by a door. It became apparent that his employer simply decided that they did not believe Peter's account and that the accident must have been his own fault.

The case progressed and various offers to settle were made and rejected by us as they were far too low. It is very rare for these cases to progress to trial but since the employer insisted that the engineering expert's view proved events could not have occurred as Peter described, a date for a trial was set on 9th December 2014.

The case settled at court shortly before the trial was due to start. Although the trial judge did not hear any evidence in the case, she indicated that the employer had erred in their approach by assuming that the accident had not occurred as Peter had described simply because they could not explain how the accident had happened.

Sharine comments:

'It was not necessary for Peter to prove exactly how and why the work equipment was defective.  The injury in and of itself established that.  If Professor Wallace's conclusions were correct, then Peter's account was an honest and accurate one and he suffered his injury as a result of the work equipment exposing his arm to a jarring force.'

She adds:

'If his injury was caused in a wholly different way to that he described then his claim would be fraudulent. That was the only possible conclusion if the expert engineer's opinion was correct.  Ultimately, it came down to whether Peter's account was accepted.  This was not a case in which there was a middle way.  Either Peter was a truthful witness or he was not.'

Peter successfully recovered damages and an order that his employer's pay the costs of the litigation.  He said:

'I'd like to put on record my thanks to Sharine and all at Access Legal for their professionalism and willingness to fight my corner to the bitter end.  Above all though I'd like to thank them for believing in me when others doubted my honesty and for their tireless support throughout this case.'

What to do next?

If you or someone you know has suffered any kind of personal injury, including an accident at work, our dedicated team of personal injury solicitors can help. Initial advice is free of charge and is available on our helpline 03700 868 686.

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