Thursday, 22 January 2015

Stewarts Law: securing funding for exoskeletons on behalf of those with spinal cord injury

Dale Messenger in Cape Town
Stewarts Law specialise in catastrophic personal injury work and as part of our series taking you through the process of claiming compensation, we wanted to share with you recent success in securing damages to fund exoskeletons for suitable clients.

We recently acted on behalf of a serviceman in the case of Dale Messenger v Ministry of Defence. Our client suffered serious spinal injuries in October 2009 during a live ammunition training exercise in the Falkland Islands. During the exercise, Dale was accidentally shot by another soldier with the bullet passing through his right hip and out of his left hip. As a result of the shooting, Dale was left paralysed and is wheelchair dependent.

Stewarts Law pursued a claim against the Ministry of Defence and liability was admitted in full, with the level of compensation agreed in September 2014. Dale Messenger recovered 100% damages including damages in excess of £550,000 to cover the cost of an Ekso exoskeleton. The costs for the exoskeleton covered the walking frame with replacements and its associated costs over the course of Dale’s lifetime. 

According to Ekso Bionics who manufactures the Ekso suits, this was the first known recovery of damages in England and Wales for this type of equipment.

When thinking of bionic exoskeleton suits, futuristic robotic uses often primarily spring to mind. The term ‘exoskeleton’ has its source in nature, referring to the outer skeleton that some animals have to support and protect them. 

Exoskeletons were primarily developed for military uses. They are used to provide protection, and give servicemen the ability to bear huge weights, in the field and in rescue operations to recover victims without significantly moving them.

BBC News has reported on the ‘rise of the exoskeletons’ which explores how the suits are becoming ever more sophisticated with technological advances. 

Crucially, exoskeletons are becoming commonplace in patient rehabilitation. This is one of the most exciting areas of development in the field of spinal injury and one that Stewarts Law takes a keen interest in. The devices are aimed at getting the spinally injured back on their feet and walking again. 

The Ekso exoskeleton allows Dale to pursue therapeutic walking. We have seen first-hand that this makes a huge difference to our clients. Whilst offering the various positive physical benefits that one might expect, walking in the Ekso resulted in significant pain relief for Dale.

Dale, who is also an Ambassador for Ekso Bionics, travels the world demonstrating the Ekso.

According to Ben Rogers, Partner at Stewarts Law who represented Dale, “This settlement reflects both the ability in principle to recover damages for the Ekso and of course the need to instruct a specialist lawyer to assist with such a claim.”

Dale Messenger demonstrates the Ekso for Ekso Bionics in Cape Town
The Ekso has made a big difference to Dale who says “During my case, many subjects were discussed and items of equipment reviewed. One such item was the Ekso and it proved to be more valuable than I could imagine. The benefit I get from the Ekso ranges from pain relief, improvements to my bladder/bowel function and more recently, an increase in my motor function and sensation. Stewarts Law worked continuously to ensure that I was kept up to date for the duration of my case and the acquisition of funds for the Ekso in my settlement just shows how dedicated they are. I cannot thank them enough.”

This is a field which is rapidly progressing and we expect to see more claims that secure people access to exoskeletons.

Read more about our work with SIA here
Ben Rogers, a Partner at Stewarts Law, represented Dale Messenger and advises on all aspects of catastrophic injury, with particular expertise in spinal cord, brain, complex orthopaedic and amputee injuries.

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