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Irish family reveal six-year legal battle in Qatar over daughter’s severe injuries | Qatar

A family from Birmingham spoke of the pain they endured during a six-year legal battle in Qatar to seek compensation for their youngest daughter’s severe injuries while living in the Gulf state.

Elisabeth Soffe, now eight, suffered life-threatening burns as a child in a fire at her family’s villa in Al Waab, near the capital, Doha, in 2014.

Her parents, Liam and Sinead Soffe, have filed a lawsuit in Qatari courts since 2017 against the company that owned and operated the property.

The couple, who are Irish citizens but currently live in Birmingham, near the hospital where Elizabeth was treated, are seeking compensation to cover the cost of their daughter’s treatment to date and her future care needs.

Liam Soffe with Elizabeth.
Liam Soffe with Elizabeth. Photo: Andrew Fox/The Guardian.

Elizabeth was left with third-degree burns on more than 60% of her body, lost most of her fingers and hair, part of her nose and ear, and will need many more surgeries throughout her life. She also needs regular physical therapy to ease the movement of her neck, elbows, wrists and other joints that are limited due to scarring.

A Qatari court-appointed fire safety expert determined that the fire was caused by improperly maintained air conditioning at the Al Asmakh Real Estate Development property, or by plugging the unit into a poor power supply.

At first, her parents tried to reach an informal settlement with the company. But despite help from the Irish government, after more than two years, no settlement followed, so in January 2017, the family filed a lawsuit against the firm in Qatar.

The family hoped their dispute ended last year when a Qatari trial court ruled that Al Asmakh Real Estate Development and its insurer Sukoon Insurance must pay nearly 15 million Qatari riyals (£3.4 million) in damages. The amount covered Elizabeth’s current and future care, as well as the family’s property lost in the fire.

But the Qatari real estate firm successfully appealed the decision and secured a referral to a lower court, the lease settlement committee, which ruled in October that the firm must pay nearly £1.6 million. This amount does not cover the medical treatment Elizabeth will need in the future.

“They rejected [costs for] all further treatment – surgeries and prosthetics – because nothing was planned,” said Liam Soffe, a civil engineer who was the infrastructure project manager for the World Cup. “She has had 70-80 surgeries on the NHS system and will likely need at least two more surgeries each year until she is an adult. She will need a prosthesis for the front of her nose and one ear, and her medical team is considering turning one toe into a big toe on one of her hands.

“To date we have spent around £25,000 in legal fees. All the UK lawyers we have asked agree that if the case is heard here, the compensation will be between £8m and £10m. [In Qatar] little attention is paid to what we think of as pain and suffering – mental health and trauma. All we want is for Elizabeth to be taken care of, to have a life and opportunities.”

Both Soffes and the real estate firm have appealed the latest ruling, with further hearings scheduled for February.

Liam Soffe said the entire family, including Elizabeth’s three older siblings, was affected by the ordeal. “It was constant heartache due to the lack of closure. Every day you have to worry about the lawsuit, as well as Elizabeth’s future and whether you can take care of her. We have to look her in the eye when she’s older and make sure she understands that we did our best.”

Despite the situation, Soffe said Elizabeth tried to lead a fulfilling life and enjoys swimming, gymnastics, dancing and trampolining. Last year, to raise money so Birmingham Children’s Hospital could buy a laser machine that breaks down scar tissue, she ran a mile a day for 26 days, raising £202,000. In October, she received the Pride of Britain award in recognition of her courage.

Her father said: “Elizabeth has a survival mentality. This is what will carry her through life. But she needs a lot of help.

Simon O’Laughlin, a paralegal at Irwin Mitchell who advised the Soffe family, said: “Liam and Sinead lived through every parent’s worst nightmare. They continue to fight for Elizabeth to receive compensation to give her access to the rehabilitation and treatment she will need for the rest of her life.”

Al Asmakh Real Estate and Sukoon Insurance have reached out for comment.

A spokesman for the Irish Foreign Office said: “The family’s concerns have been voiced to the Qatari authorities, including recently.”

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