Former bin man Richard Taylor is to receive nearly £4 million in compensation after a "horrendous accident" at work left him paralysed and in need of 24-hour care, a court heard yesterday.
The 21-year-old, from Cannock, Staffordshire, broke his neck when the refuse collection lorry he was travelling in overturned, trapping him and two colleagues in the cab.
The driver, under instruction from the team leader, had attempted a "load shift" which involved driving at high speed around the corner of a residential street to try and move rubbish forward that had accumulated at the back of the vehicle.
The lorry toppled over as it turned the corner of Morley Road and Boney Hay Road in Burntwood, Staffordshire, as the team completed a recycling round on February 21 last year.
Mr Taylor sustained "catastrophic" spinal cord injuries when his team leader Malcolm Cope fell on top of him.
This has left him tetraplegic, which means he no longer has the use of his legs and has no strength in his arms, and
needs 24-hour care. A deputy high court judge, sitting at the High Court in Birmingham, agreed to the £3.75 million settlement in principle after Mr Taylor's employer -Lichfield District Council -made a partial admission of liability.
Richard Davis QC, representing Mr Taylor, said: "This was a singular, almost unique accident.
"The sad thing that stands out is that if Richard Taylor had done what he ordinarily did, which was to walk beside or behind the wagon between pick-up points, he would be able bodied and fit today.
"But as you know, following a practice which had been seen on other occasions, the experienced team leader gave the instruction to the equally experienced driver (Jim Hunt) to go round the bend at a higher than average speed to effect a load shift, an utterly, intrinsically dangerous practice, one which they had got away with before, but not on this occasion."
Mr Hunt has subsequently been convicted of dangerous driving and handed a community service order together with a driving ban. The team leader, Mr Cope, was found guilty of aiding and abetting dangerous driving and given a four-month suspended jail sentence.
Speaking outside court following the hearing, Mr Taylor's solicitor, Stuart Henderson, said: "Richard was just 19 years of age when he went to work as usual and suffered the most appalling injuries.
"He now needs a lifetime of care. He needs two carers 24 hours a day."
Mr Henderson paid tribute to Mr Taylor and his family, whose approach to the accident, he said, had been "inspirational".
The solicitor called for the practice of "load shifting" to be stopped immediately.
He said the extent of its use was unknown.
"If it is carried on in any area, it must be stamped out. It is a highly dangerous practice," he added.
Lichfield District Council later released a statement in which the local authority expressed its sympathy to Mr Taylor and his family. It stated: "Lichfield District Council would like to express its deep regret and sympathy to Mr Taylor for the dreadful injuries that he sustained in this most unfortunate accident, and wish him well for his future.
"The Council would, however, make it clear that it did not and does not condone any practice of so-called 'load shifting' either by its own employees or by agency work-ers engaged in refuse collection on the Council's behalf.
"Such an activity is obviously highly dangerous and must not be carried out under any circumstances."
It continued: "The two other people in the refuse vehicle at the time of the accident have been convicted individually of criminal offences arising out of this incident, and have both been dismissed from their employment with the council."
Mr Taylor, who is wheelchair-bound and appeared at court with his mother and two members of his close family, would usually have been walking alongside the lorry but hopped into the cab to get a drink.
He was reluctant to speak to reporters but said he was looking forward to relaxing now the court case was over.
He is due to move into an adapted bungalow in the next two months.