Hudgell Solicitors has secured £320,000 compensation for a man who suffered a serious accident at work but then faced accusations from the business involved of making up the claim.
Newark-based Caledonian Modular Ltd initially disputed a legal claim made against it by a 48-year-old painter and decorator on the basis of ‘fundamental dishonesty’.
The firm only dropped that allegation just weeks before the case was due to be heard by a judge in the County Court, admitting the accident had in fact happened but still denying it had caused him serious injury.
When the case was heard in court, a judge was satisfied by evidence provided by Hudgell Solicitors supporting the worker and ruled that the painter and decorator be awarded £320,000 damages.
The accident had happened when the sub-contracted painter was working on the inside of a modular unit, standing on a ‘step-up’ to reach the ceiling.
He alleged sparks suddenly came through a hole in the wall next to where he was painting, caused by a worker using a cutting machine from the outside, resulting in him falling backwards off the step and onto the floor .
An independent medical expert – instructed to provide an unbiased opinion as part of the legal case – concluded he had suffered a ‘massive rotator cuff tear’ of tendons and ligaments in his shoulder as a result, causing a long-term injury preventing him working above shoulder height again.
The court judge ruled the firm had failed to protect the worker by having suitable safety measures in place, and had ultimately been at fault for the accident, and the end of the man’s ability to work as a painter and decorator.
Specialist personal injury solicitor Leanne Stephenson, of Hudgell Solicitors, described the approach from Caledonian Modular as ‘appalling’.
She said the firm had sought to hide from its responsibilities to a man who was left unable to work at all for two years after the accident, and unable to return to a job he had done for 25 years.
The legal claim alleged the firm had failed to carry out appropriate risk assessments and had failed to provide a safe system or place to work, and exposed him to ‘foreseeable risk of injury’ by allowing him to decorate inside a unit on which cutting work was being conducted on the exterior.
Accident had a huge impact on life of compensated worker.
Such was the impact on his life, the man says he has changed from ‘happy-go-lucky’ to ‘tense and irritable’, with ‘little interest in anything’. He says his change in outlook following his accident also led to the breakdown of his marriage.
Recalling how the incident unfolded, he said: “All of a sudden a flurry of sparks appeared directly on my left hand side, coming through a circular hole in the unit wall. My reflex reaction was to move away from the sparks, and I twisted my head and neck away, lost my balance and fell backwards off the step, landing on my side on the floor.
“I got up annoyed at what had happened in anger and I immediately went outside to confront the person responsible. He said he’d been told there was nobody in the unit. He had been removing a metal strip next to the circular cut in the wall.”
Having been taken to hospital by another worker, the man was initially diagnosed with soft tissue injuries, but with pain continuing over the coming days, he was signed off work sick by his GP, and after six weeks went to see a physiotherapist as there had been no improvement.
He was eventually referred for an MRI scan some five months after the accident, which confirmed the ‘massive rotator cuff tear. He underwent surgery to repair the tear a year after the accident, leaving him in a sling for 12 weeks and in need of six months of intensive physiotherapy.
“I would describe my shoulder as manageable with painkillers, although I have a degree of constant aching which is worse when I use it.” he said.
“I feel as though I have been significantly affected, not only physically but mentally. My entire personality has changed. Prior to the accident I would describe myself as a happy go lucky kind of person. I now have little interest in anything and I am tense and irritable. At the time of the accident I was married but due to my personality changes my wife and I have now separated.
“I was a painter and decorator for 25 years, but as I can’t do that anymore I have had to take unskilled work for a much lower wage.”
Solicitor says firm’s defence was ‘appalling’ attempt to dodge responsibility
Personal injury specialist Leanne Stephenson, of Hudgell Solicitors, acted for the claimant and said: “The impact of this accident on our client’s life had been huge. Nevertheless, the defendant sought to avoid its liability to pay compensation by alleging that he had completely fabricated the incident.
“The initial response was to claim our client had not been working in the room at the time another workman was cutting on the outside, and that there had been no accident at all.
“They alleged paint which had been spilled from his fall had been put there deliberately by him and that his injury had been caused by other activities. In effect they were calling our client a liar.
“However, they were not willing to pursue that accusation in front of a judge, and notified me that the allegation of dishonesty was being formally withdrawn.
“It was an appalling approach to put accusations against our client in a bid to pressurise him into dropping his case as a defence of this type, where successful, can have far-reaching implications for a claimant, including significant financial sanctions and potential criminal charges.
“The importance of our role was to obtain and present to the judge clear evidence as to what actually happened on the day, and as to the impact our client’s injury had on his life and would have into the future.
“We’re delighted that the judge was entirely satisfied by that evidence and awarded significant damages to reflect the impact this completely avoidable accident has had on our client’s life.
“We hope this firm, and other employers, learn lessons from this case in terms not only of the duty of care they owe to workers, but also in relation to their duty to act fairly and appropriately when injuries are suffered for which workers should be compensated.”
The compensation settlement included damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, loss of and a reduction in earnings through to retirement age, being left disadvantaged in the open labour market and additional costs and expenses incurred due to his injury.