Few things rile a claimant lawyer more than headlines saying their client has ‘won’ compensation. The Gazette met one family to hear what a multi-million-pound award really meant.
Rachel O’Reggio admits to feeling conflicted when a ‘no win, no fee’ advert pops up on TV.
On the one hand, she balks at the so-called ‘compensation culture’. On the other, she has secured a multi-million-pound compensation payment for the care and wellbeing of her severely brain-damaged son Joseph, from a hospital trust that made a catastrophic mistake during his birth.
It is, she concedes, a contradiction. ‘I feel hypocritical as I still disagree with the compensation culture,’ she explains. ‘My main aim from suing, to be honest, was to get an apology and [admission] from the hospital. If they were guilty then I wanted Joseph’s future sorted. We were not aware of the long-term implications of running a case.’
It is almost 18 years since a delay in carrying out a caesarian section led to a chain of events which left Joseph fighting for his life. He fully recovered his breathing after five days but it was clear from an early stage he had suffered brain damage. At a meeting six weeks later with Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, managers admitted mistakes. It would take 10 years before their candour resulted in damages.
At first, compensation was never contemplated, but after a year it became clear the family would need financial support to ensure Joseph’s long-term care.
O’Reggio and her husband admit they stumbled upon Irwin Mitchell by chance and gave little to no thought as to who should represent them.
The firm was professional and helpful, but O’Reggio recalls dreading each dealing. ‘The meetings were so traumatic as we were reliving it again and again,’ she says. ‘[The meetings] were never nice to deal with – we went through reports from all kinds of experts that we never even knew existed.’
Despite Joseph’s limitations, life continued without the family pressing for a resolution of their legal issue. Rachel says she never thought to follow up on the progress of the case.
Parents at Joseph’s school told horror stories about losing their own claims, but a meeting with their barrister gave the O’Reggios hope that their chances were much better.
By now, the fear of getting nothing had gripped the family and the O’Reggios were in no mood to gamble.
‘I just remember endless meetings with experts which took years. Then we were called to a liability hearing in London with a barrister where you are in one room and the barrister is in another room.
‘It was so strange to be involved in. The barristers were so clever. I just didn’t want to go to court and risk anything for Joseph. I would never be able to live with myself if I couldn’t get him cared for.’
The hospital trust offered 50% of what the full claim would be worth, before finally settling at 80%. After that began quantum discussions.
One of the worst moments was learning that the family would have to leave their home for another that could accommodate Joseph’s needs. O’Reggio had not realised the cost of a home would even factor into the compensation award.
Now Joseph’s living space is equipped with hoists throughout, a heated pool, a sensory room and living quarters for two carers who come twice daily.
O’Reggio concedes the family is lucky to have such facilities and almost has to justify what some might see as luxuries.
‘Joseph goes into spasm when the pool is too cold. Now he is six stone, we physically could not get him to a public pool. We had to really put up a case for it and put together a report saying why it was so hard to manage. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve had to change him on a disabled toilet floor – it was just not appropriate.’
Lawyers eventually secured £6.8m through a lump sum and periodical payments. It’s a common trope that people – even those close to them – treat them like lottery winners.
‘You see someone has “won millions” and assume they’re rich. Even friends will make comments about us being rich and I have to tell them I have not got Joseph’s money. His money is in the bank and the trust and protected by the courts.
‘That is what people believe. They read about “winning millions” and it’s a shame the whole story is not reported – those headlines sell papers and I suppose they make the solicitors look good, but I am always saying I have not got access to his money.
‘There are things we could claim for that we don’t. A lot of things I pay for that I shouldn’t have to buy for an 18-year-old boy, like bed mats. We are so careful; if something happens to us we can’t have him running out of money.’