Adapted housing after personal injury
The latest BBC1 series of DIY SOS starring Nick Knowles and his team is in full swing, and last week’s episode showed the regular crew coming together with a local community to adapt a house owned by a family where a young father was a brain injury survivor after a road traffic collision. The life changing effects of brain injury were all too evident – from reduced communication and language difficulties – through to the physical limitations of lack of mobility and requirement for the most intimate type of care – the burdens on the man and his family were difficult to watch without becoming very emotional. The efforts of the community to help give the family an improved quality of life were something to marvel at. Their empathy for such a tragic situation was equalled only by the strenuous efforts made to in effect re-build the house in a short space of time. It was impossible not to be moved by the very real and genuine reaction of the family to being able to get in and out of their home again, by having spaces where the family could all be together, by seeing how the brain injury survivor could move through the home because of the level access throughout and very importantly the installation of equipment allowing greater independence and dignity in providing personal care.
Intuitively anyone seeing the programme would understand the immeasurable positive impact the adaptations would have for that family’s life. However, in addition there may also be numerous less obvious negatives to living in property which is not properly adapted for the needs of a disabled person. Over the years a number of pieces of research have been undertaken about the impact of unsuitable housing in relation to disabled children and some of the findings have been:
- Disabled children and young people spend more time at home than non-disabled children and yet their home environment is often the most restrictive one they spend time in;
- Children, like their parents, actually want to be able to access the whole of their home, including the garden
- Mobility issues can mean physically disabled children have little control over where, or with whom, they spend their time and some research suggests this leads to feelings of boredom, helplessness and becoming over-dependent on others
- Unsuitable housing actually directly impinges on the ability of children to develop self-care skills such as cooking, even where physically they otherwise could learn such skills
- The risk of physical harm for a disabled child increases where the home is unsuitable, from minor injuries associated with being knocked and bruised due to inadequate space through to potentially more serious injuries
- Parents also suffer with an increased prevalence of injury, particularly back injuries, and some studies demonstrate a direct correlation between unsuitable housing for a disabled child and the level of stress for parents
Further detail about the impact of unsuitable housing for disabled children is in a 2008 survey which can be found here http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/housing-and-disabled-children
The work done to properties on programmes like DIY SOS is truly inspiring, but of course not everyone has access to the resources of the BBC and the ability to call on Nick Knowles and his dedicated team of builders and tradesmen and women. However, for the group of people whose requirements for adapted housing come from being injured in an accident that was at least partly the fault of someone else, and who have legitimate claims, damages can be awarded to allow appropriate adaptations to be made which can work towards maximising independence and restoring quality of life. The law in relation to the costs of purchasing a new property are complex and take into account the value of any home that person is likely to have owned had they never been injured and the lifetime costs of property ownership and potential increase in value – but in many cases enough money can be obtained to buy a property that is suitable. However, any reasonable and proper adaptations to a property, whether an existing home or one which is purchased because of the injuries sustained, should be capable of being claimed in full.
Where compensation is available this can lead to bespoke solutions and can include things such as level access throughout, widened doors and turning spaces, places for vehicles to be parked allowing easy access to home sheltered from the elements, ramps and lifts, raised beds in the garden and lowered work surfaces inside, and additional space for therapy rooms or to house carers in a way maximising privacy for the injured person. One area which is growing exponentially is the use of technology as environmental controls, which gives the injured person greater self-determination and independence – from things which seems as simple as shutting a curtain, or setting the temperature of the heating, through to complete systems to allow access and egress from the house and the use of all systems within it.
The specialist serious injury lawyers at Clarke Willmott have years of experience of supporting seriously injured people to achieve their housing needs, and the ability to have a house which is then truly a home cannot be underestimated.