Posted on 05 Sep. 2019
A MacKenzie family has come to the end of a long legal battle against their CTP insurer RACQ, after a head-on collision on North Stradbroke Island left their teenage son Mason Lee with a collapsed lung and spinal injuries resulting in tetraplegia.
The family, who are originally from Taiwan, were holidaying on North Stradbroke Island in 2013, when they collided with an oncoming car. Now 23, Mr Lee must use a wheelchair, walker and crutches to move around.
A 2017 Queensland Supreme Court decision found that 17-year-old Mason was driving the car based on DNA evidence provided by police, showing his blood was found on the driver’s airbag.
Mr Lee appealed to the Queensland Court of Appeal and lost. His lawyers, Slater and Gordon, were then granted special leave to appeal in the High Court.
The High Court yesterday ruled that Mr Lee was in the back seat with his two younger brothers at the time of the crash, while his father was driving. Mr Lee was awarded $3,350,000 in damages to cover his rehabilitation expenses, loss of wages and future expenses. RACQ was also ordered to pay Mr Lee’s legal costs.
The High Court found that the teenager’s blood had ended up on the airbag by way of transfer, after his father cradled his son’s bleeding face. As Mason’s mother was trapped in the front passenger seat, his father had to climb through the driver’s side to check on her, causing his hands to brush past the airbag.
“I was actually asleep during the car ride and when I woke up I was lying on the ground. I couldn’t lift my arms and legs,” Mr Lee said.
“People were telling me not to move my neck. I think I passed out from the pain and woke up in hospital. I could only move my toes at first and it has taken years of physio in hospitals and hydrotherapy before I could walk on crutches to maintain the level of movement I have.
“Right now I can walk a bit with my crutches or a walker. We have been waiting for this day, there was a lot of anticipation. We didn’t know what was ahead.
Slater and Gordon lawyer Nicola Thompson, said Mr Lee and his family who have been caring for him since the accident, were relieved that his claim was successful.
“It’s been a difficult and challenging road to get where we are, and Mason and his family are very happy with the High Court decision,” Ms Thompson said.
“Mason will now be able to receive the assistance and equipment he needs for the rest of his life, including a wheel chair, walking aids, rehabilitation and home modifications.
“The High Court found that Mason was the passenger and was not at fault in the accident. The insurer had initially denied liability so there was no compensation available to the family.
“This week’s decision will provide them with certainty that Mason will receive high quality care, as previously they couldn’t afford a carer and this will now be an option to them.
Ms Thompson said if the appeal had not been successful, the family faced fraud charges through the Motor Accident Insurance Commission.
“It was a tricky decision and we all knew what we were up against to make an appeal but we knew we had a strong case and that the family needed justice to be able to move on and recover together,” she said.