Iveta Knause was a Latvian national who was here in the UK with her two sons when she was severely injured in a coach crash on the South Coast. Iveta and her sons were employed as flower pickers on the slave wage of £50 a week. Their employer had scooped up a number of Eastern European workers with the entry into the European union of a number of countries such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as they knew that even the very poor wages well below the minimum wage was still more than some of these people could earn in their homeland. Iveta had intended to stay in the UK long enough to save up money to return to Latvia and hoped her sons may forge a future for themselves here as Latvia was and still is a very poor country.
An accident waiting to happen..
Iveta had been working only a few days when she was on a minibus coming back from a long day picking flowers and the accident occurred. She was sat with her two sons neither of them were wearing a seat belt as in Latvia it is not compulsory and as such vehicles like this one are not even fitted with belts. There was a problem over who would drive the bus as the employer didn’t provide a designated driver the company employed an English “manager” who drove a car in front and asked the workers to appoint a driver and follow his car back to the warehouse where they were all being housed and sheltered at night.
The driver was a Lithuanian who had never driven a bus before or in English conditions he lost control of the bus and it flew off the road and crashed into a tree. Iveta suffered a n above the knee amputation of her left leg and one of her sins fractured his skull the other escaped physical injury.
Rehab, treatment and then back home
Iveta was in the UK for another 12 months as she underwent surgery and then therapy and rehabilitation before she returned to her home of Latvia. Matthew took on the case and encountered initial arguments with the insurer about whether the use of a seat belt would have made any difference. It was interesting as there were discreet arguments about whether she could be blamed for not wearing a seat belt given the failure of the employer to instruct the workers on this issue and the cultural differences and expectations. The law would have it that if she would not have suffered a serious injury as an amputation if she had worn a seat belt if we lost the discreet arguments then she would be liable to up to 25% and would only therefore recover potentially 75% of the valuation of her loss. Seat belt experts were instructed and this remained a live issue until the case settled.
The first visit to Latvia.
Matthew arranged to visit Iveta at her home town of Liepaja which is on the coast about 3 hours drive from the capital of Riga. He traveled with counsel Marc Willems QC from Cobden House Chambers Quay Street Manchester and with the help of a Belorussian interpreter visited Iveta at her home to see how she lived , advise her about her case, and to try to understand the extent of her disability. We arrived on Holocaust Day where the residents of the country remember the tragic and horrific murder of their Jewish population at the hands of the Nazis in World War 2. Each house and building had maroon flags flying which lent an eerie atmosphere to the visit.
We soon discovered that Iveta lived with her Mother in a Flat which had no toilet just a latrine in the back garden which serviced all the residents. She had to scale stairs akin to those one see in a barn in the countryside and as such in view of her amputation and the fact that Latvia has such severe winters and deep snows for 3 months of the year she would have to use a commode and was a prisoner in her flat for those three months. She relied on her sons and family to visit and get shopping and help her survive.
To compound matters the pavements and roads of her home town and Latvia in general were so poorly paved and in such bad repair that even with a prosthetic limb we had managed to get her from the UK she could not risk walking any distance. Latvia also had very poor health provision such that only the wealthy could afford the therapy and physiotherapy she needed and no assistance from carers or home helps were provided. The culture in keeping with Eastern Europe was not one where the disabled were given anything like the help and assistance we have in the UK and often the general public look away from disability who are left to cope on their own.
The Second Trip to Latvia
If the first trip was a fact finding visit and an opportunity with the interpreters and counsel to advise the client and her family about her case the second was one where we sought to gather evidence about the actual situation Iveta faced in the future with her disability and to help her secure the right accommodation that she could live in with all the right adaptations and alterations so she could use a wheel chair in those times she needed to if her Prosthesis was broken or if she was in pain and couldn’t cope around the house. No such property existed in all of Latvia that we could see and certainly after visiting local estate agents and hiring a Latvian Lawyer and interpreter we scoured the market having received an interim payment from the insurers to assist in trying to improve the quality of Iveta’s life. She moved from her flat which was grossly inappropriate and initially purchased a slightly better semi detached property which was still not appropriate given her disabilities but wss a better place for her until we could look to create the home she needed.
Matthew traveled this time to Latvia with Marc Willems QC again but also Maggie Sargent an expert on care and case management also traveled as did Mike Valentine from the Wyvern Partnership as an expert surveyor and architect.
We met up with the interpreter and Latvian Lawyer as well as the Latvian estate agent and loctaed a plot of land and purchased this for her and with the help of the Insurers who also traveled with a similar team we agreed on the specifications and costs for this “new build” funds were provided builders sourced and the project to provide the most suitable and reasonable property for Iveta and need needs was set in motion.
Prosthesis , Care and Case Management In Latvia
With our expert we traveled to the town where the new build was to be built which was Iveta’s childhood home and the home for her Parents and other family members Kuldiga this was a 6 hour drive across the centre of Latvia and we arranged for a visit to the local hospital to see what the facilities were like this was a shock to all of us and made us realise how we take for granted sometimes our own Health Service and hospitals and it was clear that a privately funded care regime of therapy, support, care treatment and on going assistance with her Prosthesis had to be sourced and paid for as part of the claim.
We returned home with all the evidence we needed to press on to a trial and the Insurers made an offer of £1.5 million which when one took the risks of the litigation and the risk of potentially losing 25% for the seat belt issue the offer was accepted.
The main concern we had was that the cost of the new build was very cheap relatively in Latvia and the cost of a carers in Latvia was only £2 per hour in Latvia so the value of the claim was worth substantially less in Latvia than the UK by probably almost 60%