A man who lost his fingers in an industrial accident has been given a second chance to carry on life as normal thanks to cutting edge prosthetic technology and a compensation claim won by Thompsons Solicitors with the backing of Unite the union.

In July 2007, Michal Takac went to work as he did each day at Smurfit Kappa, a packaging plant based in Bristol. He had no idea that an equipment fault would result in a four year lawsuit and an exploration into the world of bionics.

While working on a printing machine, Michal’s hand became trapped between two feed rollers, severing three of his fingers. He was rushed to hospital, where it was discovered that two of his fingers could not be saved. A third finger was also removed shortly after as it did not survive, despite treatment.

Machine guarding was defective

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive discovered that the guarding on the printing machine did not provide adequate protection, which was determined as the cause of the accident. Had the guarding not been defective, Michal’s hand would not have been drawn into the machine.

Following the accident, Michal struggled with everyday tasks and could not return to work. Michal’s trade union, Unite, recognised that he was going to need help to get his life as back to normal as possible.

Unite put Michal in touch with Thompsons Solicitors. Serious injury solicitor, Lisa Gunner who is based in the firm’s Bristol office, took Michal’s case against Smurfit Kappa to claim compensation for the injury caused by failure to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery – a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations.

Compensation paid for prosthetic fingers

Four years after the accident, Lisa concluded the case against Michal’s former employer, winning a compensation settlement which has allowed Michal to investigate technology that he otherwise would not have been able to afford. He is now the proud owner of two prosthetic fingers from revolutionary company Touch Bionics. The third finger which he lost has been replaced by his toe.

Michal is now getting his life back to normal with his i-limb digits from Touch Bionics. The custom made fingers are controlled using electrical, force-sensing resistors. The user is able to activate these to move the fingers with considerable accuracy and sensitivity, mimicking the function of natural digits.

The process of learning to use i-limb digits is assisted by trained prosthetists who make use of computer software called biosim-pro. This allows them to connect wirelessly from their computer to the controller inside the hi-tech fingers and so help users select the grip patterns and hand features that best suit their needs.

Cutting corners with health and safety can have terrible and expensive outcomes

Laurence Faircloth, Unite South West regional secretary, said of the settlement: “This case should be a reminder to employers that cutting corners with health and safety can have terrible and expensive outcomes. At a time when the government is looking to water down health and safety regulations, simple safety precautions cost little but prevent life changing accidents. With Unite’s backing, Michal secured significant compensation to be able to afford revolutionary treatment. But the fact remains that this was an entirely preventable accident.”

Lisa Gunner is very pleased with the successful outcome of the case. She stated: “As a result of the compensation Michal will continue to derive great benefit from the prosthesis that would not otherwise have been available to him. The provision of the prosthesis has been a real turning point in Michal’s life.”

Thompsons Solicitors were superb

Michal remains positive about the future, but attributes a great deal of his optimism to his new fingers. “After the accident I felt so low, as I had so much taken away from me. I couldn’t work or carry out normal every day tasks such as picking up a glass.

“I will forever be relieved that I was a trade union member as Unite helped me to understand what my options were. Thompsons Solicitors were superb, offering support and guidance and ultimately securing me a financial settlement that meant I could explore top-end technology.

“The solutions offered by Touch Bionics are incredible. I was truly overwhelmed the first time I heard about the i-limb digits and to now have two new bionic fingers, that actually respond and move, is amazing.

“My advice to anyone who finds themselves faced with the same tragic situation that I have experienced is to never give up. I have learnt that there are so many people and organisations out there to support you, that you will be able to find a solution.”