Settlement for security guard who believed he was seconds from death

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Settlement for security guard who believed he was seconds from death

21st June 2013

A security guard who was convinced he was about to die when he became trapped in a lift which began filling with thick red smoke has received £43,000 in compensation.

The guard was left so severely traumatised by the ordeal that he was unable to work for more than two years.

“My client’s job involved delivering security boxes to and from various locations around London and the South East,” said Anya Rupal, a specialist work accident lawyer at Fentons Solicitors LLP. “On the morning of the incident, he was supposed to collect some cash from a gym and safely deliver it to a bullion centre to be banked.”

Anya said her client, who is in his 20s, was tasked with delivering the money in a ‘smoke box’ - a secure box used for transporting cash and valuables. She said the boxes were fitted with a smoke and dye device designed to go off in the event the box was tampered with.

After collecting the cash, the guard placed the money in his smoke box and stepped inside a lift to exit the premises. The lift was such that the doors could only be opened remotely by staff and could not be opened or closed from the inside. As soon as the doors closed, the guard noticed thick red smoke billowing from the box. Within seconds he couldn’t see his boots and half the lift had already filled with smoke.

“When he smelled burning his first concern was to rescue the cash inside the box, but when he opened it and looked inside he saw that the dye had already destroyed the banknotes,” said Anya. “After closing the box he activated the lift alarm, but by this point the smoke was so thick he couldn’t even see his hands. When the bitter tasting smoke began burning his eyes and throat and he began struggling to breathe he panicked and was convinced he was about to die.”

Terrified he was about to suffocate, the guard began banging on the lift doors but became more and more distressed when nobody answered his calls for help. When the doors opened after several minutes, staff told him they had believed there was a fire in the building but no-one had known where the alarm was coming from as they had never heard it before.

The guard was driven by a colleague back to his depot in shock with his boots and clothes covered in red dye and his eyes and throat extremely sore. After making a statement detailing how the smoke box had simply malfunctioned without its alarm first sounding he attended his local hospital and underwent a number of blood tests. When he returned to work later that afternoon, he was sent home as he was in such a distressed state.

“My client couldn’t work again for more than three years due to severe post-traumatic stress,” said Anya. “In the months following the incident, he was looked after at home by his family but suffered with ongoing anxiety and depression as well as frequent nightmares and daily flashbacks in which he would imagine he was drowning or choking to death. He was so traumatised that he found it difficult leaving the house and struggled to even take a shower as he was so scared of confined spaces.”

Although the defendant initially accepted liability for the smoke box being defective, they then attempted to withdraw their admission once the claim had started in court. Alleging the claimant was partly to blame for the smoke he inhaled as he had chosen to open the smoke box in the lift, they asked him to prove that the box was defective, despite having already disclosed CCTV footage supportive of his case and admitting that the box was defective more than a year earlier.

“The terrifying ordeal my client was put through left him deeply traumatised,” said Anya. “Although he was convinced he was about to die, his first instinct was to rescue the money it had been his responsibility to deliver. For this, his employer said he was partly responsible for what had happened. However, it was heartening to know that despite trying to refuse responsibility for the incident the defendant at least agreed to fund the substantial psychiatric treatment he needed to be able to rebuild his future.”

How can Fentons Solicitors help?

Fentons Solicitors has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of accidents in the workplace.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.