Irwin Mitchell works hard to ensure that the wellbeing of our clients is the priority in any case. Our solicitors understand that the work we do is more than just achieving financial settlements. We work closely with those who have been seriously injured to ensure that arrangements are made for their care and support in order for them to live rich and fulfilling lives despite their injuries.
The case of Stephen is one such example and in this instance, our lawyers secured a settlement of £7.8 million for him and his family. It is our strong belief that we want to give our clients a better life. We want to ensure that any settlement is about more than just compensation, and in Stephen’s case we ensured that his settlement could be channelled into uses which not only make Stephen’s life bearable, but helped it reach its full potential and allowed him to thrive.
Negligent treatment after birth
Stephen was a vulnerable baby at birth, due both to his prematurity and because of the surgery he had to undergo following problems which occurred during pregnancy. He subsequently developed jaundice, which was negligently handled by the hospital. As appropriate treatment was not commenced in time, Stephen’s bilirubin levels increased, leading to brain damage. Stephen now suffers from permanent disabilities which are typical of this type of injury, including cerebral palsy, deafness, developmental delay and eye problems.
An interim payment
After extensive investigations, liability for Stephen’s injuries was eventually admitted by the hospital trust when Stephen was ten years old. One of the first things we did once liability had been admitted was to request an "interim payment", so that we could start to put together a package of rehabilitation and support whilst our investigations into the full value of Stephen’s case continued.
Part of the interim payment was used to re-house the family so that a care package could be put in place. The family’s old council home was clearly unsuitable for Stephen’s needs so, with the help of a case manager and a property finder, a more suitable rental property was found. Now that settlement has been achieved, almost £1million has been secured to help find a permanent home which will meet Stephen’s needs for the rest of his life.
Ultimately the final amount settled upon took into account a wide variety of considerations including the past emotional and financial care provided for Stephen by his family, and the cost of providing him with the care he will need in the future.
Enriching Stephen’s life
We believe that any claim is about more than just compensation and the real difference with Stephen’s settlement was that we wanted to ensure that he could access activities which would provide him with pleasure and keep him as healthy as possible.
Stephen had been interested in horse-riding when he was younger, and the settlement was designed to use equestrian sports to ensure that Stephen could have a sense of independence, achievement, and purpose in life. All of these aspects heavily influence other areas of his life, and ensure that his mental and physical health will remain strong.
Horse-riding is an activity which is widely recognised for the therapeutic benefits it brings to children with cerebral palsy, but in Stephen’s case horse-riding was about more than just therapy. For him it was a way of life, and we wanted to ensure that any settlement reflected this and allowed Stephen to compete in equestrian events nationally and, hopefully, one day in the Paralympics. This is something which Stephen takes a tremendous amount of pleasure from, and something which gives him a real purpose in life and something to aim for.
Irwin Mitchell organised him to have a special saddle made which would allow him to ride, as well as organising the equipment for Stephen to pursue dressage. Due to his injury this form of horse-riding suited him perfectly, and he now competes in dressage competitions. Looking after a horse has given Stephen an enormous sense of independence through responsibility, ensuring that he gets more than adequate exercise, and gives him a focus which greatly benefits his overall wellbeing.
Considering past care
There were two forms of past care taken into account to calculate the settlement. Firstly, the commercial care Stephen had required since birth due to his injury and secondly, the care which Stephen had required from family which was far beyond what a healthy child would require.
Stephen has required constant supervision since he was born. This took a great toll of his mother, who had two other children to look after as well. The care she could have provided for her other children, as well as many other activities which other parents can manage with healthy children, had to be sacrificed to provide Stephen with the attention he needed. Stephen could become very distressed if looked after by a babysitter, so a great deal of further input was also required from Stephen’s aunt and grandmother.
Family members occasionally take Stephen away on long weekends to give his mother some respite from the continuous support he requires. Help is also needed to care for Stephen’s siblings, as he alone takes up a great deal of time and energy.
With the determined efforts of his mother, Stephen was able to attend specialist schools which could cater to his disabilities. This required a great deal of effort, and Stephen’s place at one of them was only secured by appeal.
The financial cost of caring for Stephen
Stephen also needed a great deal of financial support, as he required items beyond what would be expected of a healthy child. These included extra nappies which continued to be needed as he got older, and new shoes on a regular basis because the way he walked damaged them quickly. Several prams were needed to support him as he got older and could not walk, and these were quite expensive.
Despite Stephen’s mother’s best efforts to return to work, including retraining twice to attempt a job flexible enough, Stephen’s needs are too demanding upon her. The fact that Stephen’s mother had to give up work to care for him meant that financial support from family members, such as his grandmother, was necessary.
Innovative thinking of future care needs
Despite Stephen’s disabilities he is expected to live into his 80s, and will continue to require constant supervision and be significantly dependent upon others. Due to his ataxia and unsteady gait, he is unfortunately expected to be required to use a wheelchair outside from the age of 40.
Care and case management costs were calculated carefully to not only allow for both the cost of Stephen’s future carers, but also the practicalities of organising such care which would ensure the money was efficiently spent and the care kept to a high standard.
The final settlement
Stephen’s final settlement took into account the wide range of medical treatments which he would need to stay as healthy as possible. These included physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and neuropsychology, as well as the future fitting of cochlear implants. Furthermore there was an array of equipment for general activities and exercise which he required, such as walking aids. Transport in the form of a car would also be necessary.
Future loss of income was calculated on a modest rate to ensure that Stephen had money roughly equal to what he could have earned if he was capable of working.
Peter Cutler, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s London office, said: "The settlement approved ensures our client will have access to a lifetime of care, rehabilitation, specialist equipment and accommodation.
"His parents have devoted their lives to ensuring his care needs were met, however this was simply not sustainable and the settlement ensures they can now concentrate on being parents rather than full-time carers, as well as having reassurance that, no matter what the future holds, their son will be well cared for.
"Hospital staff are trained in recognising the symptoms of Kernicterus and providing patients with quick access to the appropriate treatment.
"Sadly, this was not the case for our client and we hope NHS Trusts across the country learn lessons from this case to protect the safety of their youngest patients and prevent the same errors from being repeated."
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