A father-of-two left brain damaged after being exposed to a poisonous chemical at work is to pursue a civil claim for damages after the company responsible was heavily fined for Health and Safety violations.
Nigel Verdon, 41, of Ellesmere Port, suffered life-altering injuries after being exposed to methyl iodide last summer in one of only 13 worldwide reported cases of such poisoning. The incident happened whilst Mr Verdon was working through an agency as a process operator at the Euticals chemical company in Sandycroft, in July 2012.
At a sentencing hearing at Mold Crown Court today (Thursday), the chemical company was fined a total of £120,000 by Judge Philip Hughes for a number of Health and Safety violations – the latest in a series of such cases against the firm.
Slater and Gordon, Personal Injury Lawyer, Matthew Clayton, said Mr Verdon hoped the case and details of his own devastating injuries would now serve to improve safety regulations among the chemicals industry, and lead to questions about the wider impact such companies have on the local community.
“Nigel had only been working there for around six weeks at the time of the incident and had not been signed off from training yet,” said Mr Clayton. “He has no recollection of how he was exposed, but according to the investigation by the HSE there was a leak in one area caused by an unsecured bolt and there was also a second leak.”
Mr Clayton explained that although Mr Verdon had been supplied with protective boots, gloves and a full air-fed respiratory mask, crucially he had not yet received his overalls at the time. “Methyl iodide is not only inhaled but it is also absorbed through the skin,” said Mr Clayton. “The results of his being exposed were devastating to Nigel and his family.”
The day after his exposure Mr Verdon suffered a seizure at work. He was rushed to Countess of Chester Hospital where he was treated in intensive care after he developed blood clots and lesions on his brain.
“Methyl iodide is a very toxic gas and doctors did not know at first whether he would survive,” said Mr Clayton. “He suffered two lesions to the brain and developed a pulmonary embolism. He had blood clots in his arms and legs – at one point he even stopped breathing. He had to have a filter fitted to his main veins so the clots would not move to his lungs.
“Although he was lucky to survive being poisoned, he has been left with brain damage as a result,” said Mr Clayton. “He is in near constant pain, he has difficulty speaking and his mobility has been so severely affected that he struggles to get around unaided. He needs care and assistance, which for the past year has been provided by his loving wife Elaine and the couple’s two teenage children.
“Nigel is obviously very angry about what happened to him, but it is testament to the man that he wants to highlight his own case in order to ask the authorities to look closely at safety regulations and also the impact chemical companies have on local people.”
Following the sentencing hearing, Mr Clayton issued a statement on behalf of Mr Verdon:
“It has taken nearly over 12 months for Euticals to admit liability for my injury. Neither myself nor my family have been contacted by the company to express their sorrow over the accident or to enquire if they could help or assist us in any way, whilst all this was being worked out.
“Without Elaine and my family, not only could I have lost my life but very easily have lost my home and all the comforts that went with it. My wife, who I have shared everything with for more than 20 years, nearly lost this too and my children nearly lost their dad.
“I went out to provide for and support my family - as I have always done – and was stopped in my tracks. Euticals failed to show any concern about my family’s welfare or how they were managing. I know nobody purposely went out to harm me, but through gross negligence I suffered.
“If this happened to me after just six weeks, what of my other work colleagues who have worked there longer? What of the local community? Do they even know what potential harm they might have been exposed to? The future for me is very uncertain, with being only one of a few who have survived. There is no benchmark to set my recovery by. The injuries I sustained prevent me from being the person I was. I had 25 years of work and achievements to look forward to and this has all been taken away from me.”
Mr Clayton said that following the conclusion of the HSE prosecution, he would be vigorously pursuing a claim for compensation on behalf of Mr Verdon and his family.
“We were forced to issue proceedings against Euticals when their insurers failed to admit liability for Nigel’s injuries or provide any financial help to him and his family,” said Mr Clayton. “As Nigel was employed as agency staff, he was not entitled to much in the way of benefits, and so this has had a huge impact on the family’s financial situation.
“Following the company’s admissions earlier in the year we were able to obtain an Interim Payment to fund a case manager who is helping to secure private healthcare and support for Nigel,” said Mr Clayton. “Now that the criminal proceedings against the company have concluded, we can look to pursue a further interim payment to meet much-needed care costs and also ensure that Nigel can move to more suitable ground floor accommodation in view of his physical limitations.
“Although we welcome the sentence today as it marks an important step in holding those responsible for Nigel’s injuries to account, there is still a long way to go before the full impact of this incident on Nigel and his family can be assessed,” he said.
Matthew Clayton is a Serious Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
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