These are words I hear far too often. They are the sorts of words that families use when describing to me their heartbreak after their loved one has survived an accident but has been left with catastrophic injuries.
Australia’s road fatality figures make the headlines regularly and are tragic, but what you don’t often hear about is the people who survive these horrific accidents with injuries that leave their lives, and often the lives of their families, completely shattered. There’s a lot of focus on the immediate aftermath of an accident, the injuries suffered by the victims and the lifesaving treatment they require, but what doesn’t always get recognised is how often people with significant injuries never fully recover. They can suffer physically and psychologically for the rest of their lives and life as they knew it may never be the same.
As a solicitor with Shine Lawyers, I witness firsthand the unimaginable pain these families deal with, it never gets easier, especially knowing that the accidents that have caused their suffering are preventable.
When a person first suffers a serious injury, they and their family often go into survival mode. The first question is always whether they are going to pull through and the relief once they do must be incredible. The focus then shifts to rehabilitation and recovery but often the injuries sustained cannot be fixed and their lives are irreversibly changed. In my experience, this is when things can start to fall apart.
One story that particularly saddens me is that of Rhiannon, who was hit by a car whilst riding her motorcycle to work one morning. At 35 years of age Rhiannon had her whole life ahead of her, happily married and with a job she enjoyed; she was looking forward to the future. Rhiannon had her dreams crushed in a split second when the driver of a car just failed to look before turning into Rhiannon’s path and the collision left her fighting for her life on the bitumen. Rhiannon’s multiple fractures and serious internal injuries have left her with debilitating pain and mobility issues to the point where she cannot mobilise outside of her own house without the aid of a wheelchair. Rhiannon also suffered severe psychological trauma as a result of the accident which has left her fearful of travelling on the road, risking social isolation as a result. The emotional and financial strain caused by her injuries have put her, and her family, under immense pressure.
It can be a tough transition for everyone involved when an injured person’s spouse or partner suddenly becomes a carer and often even rock solid relationships don’t always survive this change intact. Even people with the most positive attitudes, who throw themselves into rehabilitation and new activities, find it difficult to adjust to the loss of their previous life. I have witnessed numerous innocent victims of accidents withdraw from loved ones because they can’t bear to be treated differently or lose their independence. Previously unbreakable bonds between family members can crack under this pressure. With those who suffer brain injuries, there can be a marked change in personality which can also impact on relationships hugely. Family members have said to me that they are grieving the loss of the injured person even though they survived.
As a driver, it only takes a second of lost concentration to completely ruin someone’s life. When you look at the impact these injuries have on people and their families you realise that it really isn’t worth looking at that text message, taking that call, having that extra drink at the pub or arriving at your destination 5 minutes earlier.
Every decision you make on the road is crucial. In a split second, someone’s life can be ruined. I encourage you to put yourself in the shoes of these victims and their families and ask whether there are changes you can make to your behaviour behind the wheel.
Laura Hadfield is a solicitor working in the major claims team of Shine Lawyers.