The name Stephen Archer might mean very little to those outside the circle of any close friends and family members he might have had. But his is a case that cries out for justice. This is yet another situation of an average Barbadian citizen being adversely affected by the type of dubious conduct that can accompany the vulnerable even to the grave.
Tomorrow morning Archer will be laid to rest in the churchyard of St Stephen’s Anglican Church just five months after publicly highlighting the tragic circumstances that befell him. He also drew attention to the representation – or lack thereof – of a well-known Barbadian attorney-at-law. Fifteen days after Archer celebrated his 30th birthday in 1997, a telephone pole fell on him occasioning him significant bodily injury.
Archer was taken to the United States to undergo treatment and physical therapy. While living in Miami, Florida, and now a paraplegic, he became homeless. His leg became infected as a result of his living circumstances and it was later amputated. He subsequently returned to Barbados and an initial hospital visit eventually turned into a four and a half-year residency at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. After leaving the hospital the bed-ridden Archer became a resident at Cyralene Senior Citizens Nursing Home at Accommodation Road, Spooners Hill, St Michael.
The utility company fulfilled its legal obligations to Archer and according to him paid a seven-figure compensation settlement to his attorney-at-law on his behalf. However, Archer revealed to Barbados TODAY in April that he was never given a cheque with his money nor was it ever deposited on his personal account. Despite the small fortune that his unfortunate accident had brought to him, Archer explained then that he still owed the nursing home $20 000 for eight months stay at the facility. He said the lawyer was handling his finances but had not paid any money to the home. “When I came here (nursing home), the idea was to save money to help my sister and fix the house in Cave Hill, but it backfired when the lawyer reduced how much I am getting so I ended up staying here a lot longer than I expected,” Archer revealed then.
Archer’s unfortunate situation was exacerbated as a result of his sister – who had been his main helper – dying in February from cancer. His mother who had initially been his principal caregiver had died from a stroke in 2009 while they were still in the United States. His was a life with little family support. He explained the mental and physical difficulty of being reduced from an independent, active, outgoing individual to one living in solitude and confinement in a bed with the occasional allowance out of his money coming from the lawyer.
With hundreds of thousands of his dollars sitting in the bank account of his lawyer, Archer was later reduced to starting a Help Stephen Archer Facebook page and the launch of a “gofundme” account. During his stay in the nursing home his three-bedroom, one bathroom family house at Well Gap, Cave Hill, St Michael was rendered an empty shell by burglars. Despite facing such immense personal hardship, a still optimistic Archer stated in April: “I am not worried, this is Barbados. In the States, I was homeless, in a wheelchair with maggots on me, but here in Barbados a lot of people know me so hopefully, it is not going to come to that. I have nothing to lose. When you are down the only direction to go is up. So I am waiting.”
Archer’s wait is now over. His direction did not take the upward curve he desired. But there are many questions left unanswered. And who will seek to have them answered? Archer had no children. Chief among those questions: Where is his money? Does his attorney-at-law still have the substantial amount on his own personal bank account? If he does, will he make any attempt to pass it on to existing family members, irrespective of how close or far removed they might be? Why did he not hand over all of Archer’s money when he received it or have it placed on his client’s personal account? Why were payments not made to Cyralene’s Senior Citizens Nursing Home in a proper manner? Does the Barbados Bar Association have any authority – or inclination – to launch an investigation into this matter? Is there any other agency willing to pursue this case? Will this be simply another case of a Barbadian lawyer benefiting from the funds of a client?
Perhaps it is time that in matters such as these, plaintiffs have greater oversight on the actual transaction between the defendant and legal counsel where compensation is due to be paid. Why are cheques written in the name of lawyers and not the clients they represent? Developments in Barbados’ courts over the years would suggest that not writing the plaintiffs’ cheques in the names of their lawyers might be protecting many from themselves.
Of course, none of this is going to help Stephen Archer now. But perhaps some of the mourners who pay their last respects to him tomorrow will ensure they are guarded against such anguish if similar tragedy should ever befall them.