15:56 PM, 26th May 2011, About 13 years ago 3
In the previous two articles in his series, Bill Main-Ian recalled the accident that saw him lose one of his legs in a car accident and then fight for his perfect house which led to him becoming a property investor. The story of how Bill got into property investing and triumphed through adversity is being shared in detail for the first time exclusively with readers of Property118.com.
Having had the benefit of what we needed to look for in housing from the first OT report, we did not need another report to find what we needed. Well not at first. Our new solicitor gave us the go-ahead to search and she said that a report would be done once we found it. This was much more satisfactory. We found the house within half a mile of where we lived. Our QC was amazed, he had spent his entire career fighting insurance companies stating that claimants needed bungalows and we came along. The insurance company said we should have a bungalow but we disagreed. Our social conditions, community ties, children’s schools all dictated that it was reasonable to remain in our locality and we wanted to live in a house. We had paid a premium to get into a nice area, we saw no reason to move to East Anglia where the insurance company wanted us to go to, coincidentally, where property prices were cheaper.
When we found the property, we needed to know if our expert would say it was reasonable to move there. There is a curious principle in law that says when compensating a claimant there should not be any extra benefit given. The claimant is only entitled to be “put back into a position he would have been in prior to the accident.” It is therefore a matter of debate and legal argument as to how far money and what money can buy can put an amputee- or other catastrophically injured persons- back into that position. So what we needed to know was whether we could justify the move from a 3 bed semi to a 6 bed detached house with 5 downstairs rooms. We did, but it was a struggle, again with our own experts. This is an art. One needs the information that will convince the surveyor that comes to report.
On surveyors, let me digress for a moment. Occupational Therapists generally will report on aids and equipment that a claimant is likely to need and acquire over a lifetime. They also say they can comment on the housing needs. This is probably acceptable where the injury is less severe but I would say it is unacceptable when a catastrophic injury has occurred. Then, you need one of the surveyor experts that deals exclusively with this level of injury. This small cabal of surveyors specializing for this market need to be exceptional and as luck would have it we got the one that had found himself in a rut. Copy and pasting previous reports and adapting them for their current client does not meet the needs of the client, I hope you can agree with me on that.
We explained the needs when going around the house to the surveyor. We were at pains to explain away the extra rooms. Lift access, storage for prosthetic limbs / wheelchairs and other equipment/carers bedroom. We justified it all. At least we thought we did, little did we know a preliminary report was prepared for the house and basically our own expert would not come on board. There followed a series of letters explaining our needs, thoughts and desires. The expert’s replies were basically that our opinions, desires and thoughts were not justifiable evidence to fight their expert opinion. We just had no power to argue and win. We were beside ourselves with anger and betrayal. We were beginning to be paranoid with experts and I decided I needed to become an expert.
My life, at that time, was a series of trips to doctors and prosthetic clinics. I decided to ask a question of a NHS Occupational Therapist. The question I asked was, “What is the reference book that OT’s and surveyors use when preparing reports for the suitability for housing disabled people?” Within a week I received the reply and the name of the ‘bible’ all surveyors use. Armed with this information I went down to my local library. The library had a reference section and the book was there. I made copious notes, photocopies and resolved to buy my own copy if it became necessary.
Evidence. Evidence. Evidence. They wanted it, they got it. I took the preliminary report and dissected it. The report was not fit for purpose. The information in it did not comply with standard procedures and information. My subsequent letter quoting the text book and what the preliminary report should have said, according to the ‘bible’, had seismic repercussions. A suitable letter from my solicitor pointing out a not fit for purpose report essentially was saying he had been negligent. A second report was advised and done. He listened more carefully on the second visit and a suitable report supporting our assertions was forthcoming. He saw the error of his ways but I was left aghast at the lengths I had to go to to prove my point that his actions were all so unnecessary.
This second report backed our claim and we were confident that the ‘extra’ value that was in the new property was needed because of my needs after the accident and therefore claimable. I can truly say the house does work in the way we envisaged.
This episode taught us a big lesson. The fight is not just with the other side, it is with expert opinion. The experts, all experts of all persuasions and competencies, never actually work for you. Their opinion is sought by the court and that is where their true affiliations lie. The client in these circumstances is inconsequential and merely the subject in order to obtain the fee to pay their mortgage. Yes I am cynical. I resolved to dissect every expert report that came our way. The level of inaccuracy in these reports is truly extraordinary. We spent hours / days writing to correct these errors because once accepted and disclosed you can’t do anything about them, so they need challenging before they are disclosed to the other side and the court. We came to the conclusion these experts write reports in order NOT to go to court, i.e. if their reports downsize the money needed to put the claimant back into their pre accident position then the expert is saved the stressful experience of giving evidence. Our barristers and solicitor even went to the lengths to set up a meeting in our home with one expert who was really anxious about the prospect of going to court. It turned out she was dyslexic and the mistakes and inaccuracies she made in her report were because she was unable to take notes. We had provided her with copious notes of our research but she could not read them, relying on her memory instead. Good grief, how do these people get into these positions?
In one report there was a recommendation for a piece of equipment I needed. I thought the price was very low. God bless the internet, I found the actual equipment quoted and the company. The price quoted by the OT was over 12 years old, the company’s address, which was partially visible on a bad quality photocopy of an advert, was one they had not traded at for 15 years as they had changed location. This was fraud being perpetrated on me. Why would an expert do such a thing? The answer is merely neglect and a desire for more work and fees. The report is used as evidence that the claimant’s claim is over what is reasonable. It is a scandal.
Once established in the house we started keeping records of our spending. On some items we actually noted the reasons why they were bought. For example, a computer system might not be seen a necessary and a natural purchase after a catastrophic accident but it is. One just needs to see how it aids communication with the outside world, banking, buying things because mobility is an issue, in fact all manner of reasons. One needs to be educated to be able to forcibly debate and win the argument with your own solicitor. Get the solicitor believing the necessity they can win the battle. You live it, you evidence it, they then believe it and the instruction to win it is met. I suppose it is necessary for that solicitor to be receptive to your instructions. I know mine was, she told me she went home at night wound up over some minor battles we had been having. At least I had grabbed her attention!
It is most important to keep accurate records in this phase in your case. Sourcing the correct aids and equipment. It is all education and knowing what is needed. I am of the opinion that every solicitor and insurance company should employ a mentor to the catastrophically injured. Everyone, no matter the level of their intelligence and ability, needs to have their hands held going into this new life. There is no such service because no-one will pay for it. When I suggested this should be the case after my case had settled the answer I received was what qualification do you have to tell a court you are an expert? What I was being told is that you need an educational qualification to become an expert. What utter tripe. I defy any person to explain to me how a university can replicate a degree course to tell a court how it is to live a life as an amputee or wheelchair bound person and what needs they have. The life experience is the course, one’s experiences become the expert experiences one needs. There is no other course.
So I decided to write my website to enable people to start to gain the information they need to adapt into there new life. I feel that if they can adapt they will stop that descent into that black hole, marriages / relationships may survive and people get the support they deserve.
If you want to read more I have set out a free website where my experiences have been detailed. http://www.mentorexperiences.co.uk/