Helping Injured Clients to Regain Mobility
In the wake of a catastrophic accident, injured parties often face severe mobility restrictions which hamper their ability to live out their day-to-day lives as they are accustomed.
In these cases, the use of personalised vehicles and other transportation aids is critical to help restore their standard of living. This month we hear from transport expert witness Niki Sinclaire, who provides an in-depth look at her own role in providing mobility solutions for her clients.
As PMS is a full service transport company focusing on providing mobility solutions to those with disabilities, how does your role as an expert witness integrate with the broader services PMS offers?
As an expert witness I am instructed by legal professionals and can assist case managers to assess clients for their transport requirements. It is through the assessment process that our other services offered by Personal Mobility Solutions are accessed. The service that is used is very much dictated by the outcome of the meeting. One or more services may be offered at any time.
For example, it may be established during the meeting that the client is without any suitable wheelchair-accessible transport of their own and without the right transport they are unable to gain access to the wider community. It could be that they have a taxi account, but this has proved to be unreliable. In this instance I would make a recommendation in my report for an adapted rental. During the time it takes to write the report, I would also refer the client or their representative to our rental department to obtain a quote for that service as an immediate need.
The option of a rental vehicle is offered as a short-term solution until a permanent vehicle can be sourced, and the client has the choice again to use our services to purchase their new adapted vehicle. Through our Vehicle Supply Service, we will source the base vehicle and oversee the adaptions and modifications that are required, arranging the vehicle transfer between sites and handling all the administration for the client such as the vehicle registration and insurance. By offering this service we can ensure that the vehicle is ordered, adapted,] and delivered to the client without any disruption or stress to themselves.
We are often instructed to oversee the sale of an existing client’s current vehicle. They may have reached the time where it is getting too old and they need to replace it, or it could be that their circumstances have changed and they require a different type of vehicle altogether and we can assist them through our Part Exchange service.
As an expert witness I am instructed by legal professionals and can assist case managers to assess clients for their transport requirements.
In which types of cases have you been called on to provide your expert opinion?
I can be instructed on any case where there is a requirement for a transport review. However, I am predominantly instructed on cases of medical or clinical negligence either through birth or an operation that has gone wrong, as well as road traffic accidents, acts of terrorism and anything that has resulted in a life-changing catastrophic injury for the client and has placed them in a position where they can no longer drive or access a vehicle in the conventional manner.
Whilst transport may form the smallest and least important part of a client’s claim, it can often make the biggest difference. Having access to suitable transport can give someone back their independence and enhance their quality of life and wellbeing. It is important to point out that it does not matter about the individual’s disability or whether they are cognitively aware; their rights to be able to travel in safety and comfort are just the same as any able-bodied person. All that changes are their vehicle requirements.
For example, I met a client who, pre-incident, had a high-flying career. They were the main driver for the family days out and they helped with the school runs – they were the one to depend on. Post-incident, they find themselves confined to a wheelchair for all their mobility needs. They are fortunate enough to still have upper dexterity and they can transfer independently, but they are unable to help with the family chores as they did before. They could still drive, but the family vehicle was unsuitable, due to having the wrong transmission, no driving controls and being difficult to access when transferring. They just wanted to be able to do something to help with family life, but they did not have the right equipment to do so.
So, we investigated the option of a vehicle that offered a good access height that the client could transfer into from their wheelchair, with enough space to then dismantle their wheelchair and stow it in the footwell next to them, and with the correct driving controls to enable them to drive without having to use the primary pedals of the brake and accelerator. I suggested a small number of vehicles that I felt would fit the client’s criteria and they were able to find a vehicle that they could transfer in and out of whilst managing their own equipment. They are now able to help with the school runs, and they can take a trip to the shops without requiring assistance. They now have some level of independence back again.
Do you have a typical process that you follow with each of your cases?
When I meet with the client for their transport assessment, I treat it as though we were having a general conversation and not a tick box exercise. It is important that they feel comfortable and we can build a good rapport. Where possible, I always try to meet with the client in person. From experience I have found that so much detail is lost when carrying out an assessment through a media platform. Meeting face to face enables me to get a better understanding of day-to-day life for the client. I can see how the family dynamics work, everyday struggles with equipment, etc. It is through this process that I can obtain the information I require to build a picture of what the clients vehicle needs are.
When I meet with the client for their transport assessment, I treat it as though we were having a general conversation and not a tick box exercise.
By asking open questions I can establish what their vehicle requirements were pre-incident and how they may have changed post-incident. I ask questions such as how they wish to travel, how they are going to access a vehicle, are they going to be a driver or a passenger. There are many factors that will have an impact on my vehicle recommendation, and everything must be taken into consideration to get the right outcome and ensure that the correct transport is provided.
So many times, I have met with a client who has the wrong vehicle sat on their driveway. It has been provided without knowing all the facts or the specific needs of that client. The provider has not taken into consideration the dimensions of the wheelchair, the headroom required, how many passengers it will need to seat or how the vehicle will be driven and by who! It has been provided because it was available and it will probably be okay. I have been told by clients that when they raised the issue about how unsuitable their transport was, the response was “See it as a learning curve, we will know better for next time”. And the client is stuck with a very expensive vehicle that is not fit for purpose.
As a company we do not manufacture or sell anything, so when it comes to finding the right adaptions, driving controls and transport, we have built relationships with a select choice of adaptors and specialist engineers. This enables Personal Mobility Solutions to offer a fully bespoke modified vehicle that has been tailored to the client’s specific driver or passenger requirements.
What are the challenges of being able to prove that your opinion is correct and that it can stand up to scrutiny? What sort of value can an expert witness bring to a case?
There are so many variations of what is essentially the same wheelchair-accessible vehicle or driving adaptions, so when I produce a driving assessment report I make sure that I have taken the time to really research all the options available to the client. It is my duty as a transport expert witness to ensure that I have shown due diligence in my findings and not just recommended a vehicle because that is the one the client likes or it is the most expensive and therefore will be the right one.
Every vehicle adaptor has their own conversion that they offer, and it will not be appropriate for all clients. My role is to have a good understanding and excellent knowledge of the modifications available by different adapters and to be able to recommend a specific vehicle adaption because I know that the conversion will offer the correct headroom for someone seated in a powered wheelchair, or that the base vehicle is compatible and can be adapted with specialised driving controls such as Paravan Space Drive.
Adapting a vehicle for someone with disabilities is not a one-size-fits-all. There are so many aspects of the client’s daily life that must be considered. When I write my report, this is what I am trying to put across to the reader. I have to justify the reasons why I am making my recommendations for a particular vehicle or vehicles and I have to make it clear that I am recommending that vehicle with those specific adaptations because they offer the right solution for the client.
Adapting a vehicle for someone with disabilities is not a one-size-fits-all. There are so many aspects of the client’s daily life that must be considered.
I must also show that I have taken into account all other vehicles available and explained that I have eliminated them on the grounds that they cannot be adapted to suit the client. As an example, they may not allow enough head height for someone travelling in a Permobil powered wheelchair. They may not offer a drive from wheelchair position or they are too small internally compared with other vehicle makes and models. There can be quite a difference in price between various vehicle adaptions, but this does not influence my decision. The wrong vehicle is the most expensive vehicle.
Your firm also provides valuation for probate. Given the specialist and potentially bespoke nature of the mobility vehicles, how do you go about providing an accurate valuation?
To establish any adapted wheelchair-accessible vehicles value, we first look at the value of the vehicle itself based on its age, mileage and condition as a regular, unadapted vehicle. We then look to establish the desirability of the vehicle as it is presented. This includes the type of access, the number of seats, any driver adaptations, etc.
Having supplied many bespoke new vehicles over 20+ years, we have very good knowledge of which vehicle conversions are more commonly supplied and are therefore more desirable and of greater value as a used vehicle. This information, combined with our newest enquiries along recent sales reports from specialist sales outlets, helps us to confidently respond to any enquiries.
Given the unique nature of the mobility solutions offered, how does PMS go about providing aftercare to its clients? What can clients expect? Do you offer any accident management services?
Aftercare, or PMS Service Care as we offer it, is available to all our clients whether we supplied their vehicle or not. We can provide as little or as much support as is required. We can send out maintenance reminders for scheduled jobs such as MOT dates and equipment checks and services, which in some instances are Legal requirements. As many of our clients rely so heavily on their vehicle and cannot be without it, we can arrange for ‘on-site’ visits for equipment maintenance.
We also arrange workshop bookings for vehicle repairs, including collection and delivery where offered. Personal Mobility Solutions can settle the workshop accounts on the client’s behalf and then recharge the costs, where applicable, NET of VAT to the deputy or client directly, as instructed. We are also available to help with ‘vehicle off road’ situations and accidents and, where available, can assist with the provision of a rental vehicle to keep clients mobile. We charge a small service fee for our administration and provide all of this information with every new vehicle we supply.
What are the distinctive challenges when it comes to assessing the precise mobility needs of your clients? How do you develop a bespoke solution?
There are many challenges that we face when assessing a client for their transport needs. Putting together a criteria of their requirements is just the beginning. Once the criteria has been established we then need to determine which set of specialists we can liaise with to bring it all together.
No two clients are the same and whilst they both might require a vehicle that they can either access in a wheelchair or carry out a wheelchair transfer into the driver’s seat, once they are on board they may need specific equipment to make the travelling experience safer and more comfortable. This may not be an off-the-shelf product or available through the adaptor and a bespoke solution will need to be sought.
To give an example, I met a client who had severe burns to their torso and face and needed regular operations and skin grafts. Each operation left them in quite a lot of pain and discomfort whilst they were recovering. They found something as simple as having the seat belt across their chest and stomach extremely unpleasant and they became quite distressed when travelling. They had tried seat belt deflectors that were available on the market but to no avail. They needed something more tailored to them. They needed something that would enable them to wear a seatbelt so it would still function as it should, but that did not press against them. It also needed to be adjustable to allow for when they were wearing thicker clothing such as a winter coat.
I had the knowledge that the right equipment did not exist. I also knew that this was something that a vehicle adaptor would not offer and would need to be a specialised piece of kit manufactured by an engineer. Working closely with the client I was able to design a mechanism that was fixed to their seat and that allowed the seatbelt to be worn without it pressing against their stomach. This proved to be very successful and enabled them to travel in comfort.
This is just one of many examples where, as a company, we have had to find a tailored solution for our clients as it cannot be picked off the shelf. Another brief example is fitting a medical table and power inverter in the rear of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that enabled a cough assist machine to be transported, powered and used whilst the client was travelling in their wheelchair. Again, this was not a product that could be found on the shelf and required a more bespoke approach.
Niki Sinclaire, Personal Transport Expert Witness
Personal Mobility Solutions Ltd
Cedarmount House , 90a Owlsmoor Road, Sandhurst, Berkshire, GU47 0SS, UK
Tel: +44 01344 989140
“I have worked in the automotive industry for over 20 years and have been with Personal Mobility Solutions for five years. I have a background in litigation and worked for a leading car hire company as a litigation manager. Wanting to add to my qualifications, I studied as a counsellor and spent time working on an all-female acute forensic ward with patients of varying mental and physical ability under the Mental Health and Mental Capacity Act. On average I see between three and four clients a week for both passenger and driver needs, including all wheelchair-accessible vehicle requirements.”
Personal Mobility Solutions is an established expert witness service that is recognised by the Court of Protection, with extensive experience in the assessment and provision of transport related mobility solutions throughout the UK. The firm has a proven track record working with legal professionals and deputies and is well equipped to provide consultation and implementation of automotive adaptations and conversions.