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Norwich man's legal fight over back injury

PUBLISHED: 08:37 18 June 2011 | UPDATED: 09:34 18 June 2011

A Norwich man whose working life was ended by an accident which almost "obliterated" his spinal cord is fighting a Court of Appeal battle for compensation from his former employer.

Mark Simon Smithurst, 44, suffered a prolapsed disc while moving heavy equipment in the back of a van while working for Sealant Construction Services in March 2006.

He has since been left with “severe” back pain, sciatica and urological problems which have permanently changed his life.

Mr Smithurst, of George Fox Way, West Earlham, has already been awarded the right to as yet undecided damages, but was in court in London to argue that his payout should be substantially higher.

At Norwich County Court last year, he was awarded compensation on the basis that he would have nevertheless suffered such an injury within two years of the accident, due to a pre-existing back condition.

But Mr Smithurst and his lawyers say the judge went about the case in the wrong way and should have awarded damages on the assumption that he would have worked until retirement age.

His barrister, David Sanderson, told a panel of three appeal judges that Mr Smithurst, formerly a diamond core driller, had been using a vehicle with a defective door for some time before the accident.

It meant that, in order to get his equipment out of the van, he had to clamber over the front seats and a partition, moving equipment aside, and open the doors from the inside.

Tragedy struck on March 16, 2006, when he tried to move two 25 litre water bottles and other heavy drilling equipment and suffered a serious back injury.

He suffered a “massive” disc prolapse, which almost “obliterated” his spinal cord, the barrister said, resulting in him having to have major surgery.

The main issue between experts at the County Court trial was whether Mr Smithurst would have suffered such an injury anyway and whether the accident just meant it happened sooner than it otherwise would.

The judge decided that such an incident would have occurred within two years, awarding him damages and care costs for those two years from the date of his accident.

But Mr Sanderson said: “The judge’s conclusion was flawed and failed to take proper account of the evidence.”

Lawyers for the company are hotly contesting the appeal, pointing to Mr Smithurst’s “significant pre-existing degenerative change in his spine”.

The judges reserved their decision on the appeal until a later, as yet unspecified, date.

Neither Mr Smithurst nor anyone at Stowmarket-based Sealant Construction Services wished to comment on the case.

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