Family Says More Must Be Done To Recall 16,500 Stair Lift Devices After Hearing Critical Inquest Evidence
The family of a woman, who died 11 months after being left paralysed from the chest down when she was thrown down a flight of stairs when her stair lift broke, have spoken of the need for lessons to be learnt to prevent any further ‘unnecessary deaths’.
The family of Ann Veal from Peterborough are speaking out for the first time after a two-day inquest into the 68-year-old’s death revealed this week (5 June) that her Meditek Sika 140 stair lift failed due to issues with the screws.
Her Majesty’s Coroner Mr David Heming said he would write a report under Regulation 28 recommending action is taken to alter the devices to improve safety as during the inquest it was revealed that since 2006 manufacturers Meditek have received eight reported incidents resulting in two reported deaths, that of Ann Veal and also the death of Mrs Gwendoline Rhymer from Barnsley, South Yorkshire.
The coroner recorded Mrs Veal’s cause of death as pneumonia and immobility due to paraplegia. Mrs Veal was left paralysed following a fall from her defective stair lift. In a narrative verdict, the coroner criticised the design and the use of washers on the device, and also highlighted issues with the servicing because vital safety updates had not been received and taken into account.
The court also heard that there were 16,500 of the devices manufactured around the same time and so it is possible that vulnerable and elderly people still have the model in use in their homes.
Expert serious injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell secured a settlement for the family in a civil case against Meditek which concluded in 2012 but the family was keen to find out exactly what happened at an inquest as they believed there could be a wider problem.
The Coroner also said there were concerns over the number of the devices in the marketplace and said some alterations could be made so that they are more robust.
The inquest, held at Peterborough Coroner’s Court, heard that Ann sustained a spinal cord injury leaving her paralysed from the chest down after falling from her stair lift at her home in the town centre in April 2011. She died in March 2012 of pneumonia after her injuries left her weak and unable to cough causing her lungs to fill with fluid.
Stacy Clements, a specialist serious injury solicitor at Irwin Mitchell representing the family, said:
Expert OpinionThe family was naturally distraught when they heard about Ann’s death and wanted answers as to what happened. The stair lift was installed in her home by the council to help her to get around; but throughout the inquest it has become apparent that there were issues with the device and also the servicing of the stair lift which have contributed to her death.
“There have been eight reported incidents to Meditek, but there may be more that haven’t been reported directly to the manufacturer as there were over 16,500 of the devices made and by their nature they are used by vulnerable people for whom a serious injury could be devastating.
“It is vital that any action which can make them safer is carried out ASAP and we are pleased that the coroner is to use the powers at his discretion to write a report on what could be done.
“We hope that lessons will be learnt from this tragic case to ensure that this situation simply cannot happen again. The family want to know that Ann’s death has not been in vain and that others will not suffer in the same way in future.” Stacy Clements - Associate Solicitor
A previous incident involving a Meditek stair lift was also considered at an inquest in Sheffield when Gwendoline Rhymer died in 2006. Following that incident Meditek said they had issued new guidance on the design and the need for better locking bolts but the maintenance company in charge of Ann’s chair, Accora (formerly Drake Mobility) said they never received the guidance.
Ann’s daughter Sharon Veal-Gray, 44, from Peterborough, who works at a local school, said: “We were devastated at my mum’s death, she was always so caring and kind and did not deserve such pain and suffering. We never thought that a device fitted to help her around the home would cause such serious injuries and ultimately her death.
“We are grateful to Irwin Mitchell and the Coroner for investigating exactly what happened, even though it was incredibly difficult to listen to the evidence.
“Nothing will ever bring my mum back but I feel that we have a duty to ensure that improvements are made to prevent further unnecessary injuries and deaths. We just hope that Meditek and others involved in the production and servicing of this type of stair lift will take note and make the necessary improvements so that others don’t suffer in future. We also hope that if anyone hearing our story has a loved one with one of the same models of stair lift installed in their home, they will immediately have it checked to ensure it is safe.”
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