Seeking justice for Luke

CLOSE-KNIT FAMILY: Accident victim Luke Palmer with sister Abbie and brother Kerry.
CLOSE-KNIT FAMILY: Accident victim Luke Palmer with sister Abbie and brother Kerry.

It started as a fun family day, but turned into a lifetime of tragedy.

Gordon Palmer recalls it like it happened yesterday, rather than nearly 23 years ago. He and his two sons, Luke, 9, and Kerry, 12, were in a spectators' safe zone watching motocross in Motueka Valley on October 20, 1991, when a young rider lost control and his bike became airborne.

It crashed into the crowd, striking Gordon and Luke. "When I came to, Luke was lying beside me on the ground with his brains basically hanging out of his forehead."

Luke was rushed to Nelson Hospital but, within days, doctors told his family there was no hope, so they switched off life support.

"We didn't want him to live like a vegetable, " his mother, Erica, says. "But he kept breathing."

He slowly regained consciousness but doctors doubted he would speak or walk again.

He was eventually discharged home on Christmas Eve, 1991. "He was in a wheelchair and needed feeding. He was like a 9-year-old baby, " his mother says.

ACC agreed to pay the family 30 hours a week for caregiving even though "he needed care 24/7 by two people", his mother says. Erica spent most of her day caring for Luke, with Gordon taking time off work to assist.

They say ACC's minimal support for Luke, who is now 31, has made their journey far worse, although support has improved in recent years.

Luke's speech has returned, albeit stilted, and, with intensive physiotherapy, he is able to walk with assistance and a brace on his paralysed right leg for about an hour a day, using a wheelchair for the rest of the time. He is blind in his left eye and has partial sight in his right eye.

"If Luke was in a community home, they would have been paying for 24-hour care, " Gordon says.

The close-knit family is relieved to have joined the class action against ACC for backdated attendant care.

"When ACC was brought in, New Zealanders lost the right to sue, " Gordon says. "ACC was supposed to be about covering these sorts of situations, but they don't give enough money to cover the cost of care."

Sunday Star Times