A decline in injury claims for school accidents has been attributed to new regulations making it harder for teachers and lecturers to claim compensation.
According to figures released by the Educational Institute of Scotland, just over £180,000 was paid during the 2013/14 years to settle injury claims for school accidents – a fall of almost 50 percent on figures from the previous twelve months.
The settlements included £50,000 compensation for a school employee who suffered a head injury when they slipped and fell on an icy playground, and £25,000 compensation for a teacher who suffered a broken ankle due to tripping and falling on school premises.
Changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act have made it harder for teachers and lecturers to make injury claims for school accidents, who now have to prove that their employer was negligent even when the employer has been convicted of a breach of safety regulations by the Health and Safety Executive.
The General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland – Larry Flanagan – also believes that injury claims for school accidents are being hindered by insurance companies representing the local authorities. He commented that if insurance companies acknowledged their policyholders´ liability sooner, they would save on unnecessary legal fees and medical costs.
Mr Flanagan also added that injury claims for school accidents would decline further if schools were to implement basic and inexpensive safety requirements, but Douglas Chapman – the education spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities – denied that educational centres were lacking in safety precautions. He said:
“It is important to emphasise that teaching is a very safe profession, and local authorities take extremely serious the safety and well-being of all staff and pupils. There are over 50,000 teachers and over 700,000 pupils in school and pre-school so accidents or incidents will occasionally take place. Serious incidents are rare but parents and teachers should be assured that authorities and schools have in place policies to deal with situations that may arise.”
Julie Anne Huddart, a 49 year old teaching assistant from Chorley, Lancashire, has been awarded £800,000 compensation after tripping and dislocating a finger at work. Ms Huddart’s accident occurred in 2003 when she was trying to move an empty wheelchair and she subsequently tripped over the waist strap.
The incident caused Ms Huddart to dislocate a finger and injure her elbow. Since then she has been diagnosed with ‘reflex sympathetic dystrophy’ which is a nervous system impairment that causes pain and swelling.
According to Ms Huddart’s solicitor, ever since the incident occurred and she has developed this condition she has been in continuous pain and the left side of her body’s movement has been restricted. She has been left dependent on the continual care of her husband.
Ms Huddart’s claim against her local authority for compensation took nine years to settle. Lancashire County Council then finally agreed this year, in an out of court settlement, to provide Ms Huddart with £800,000 in damages and £140,000 in legal costs. Lancashire County Council has stated that the maximum amount that they have had to provide is £100,000 and the rest of Ms Huddart’s settlement has been covered by the liability insurance of her employer.
Bradford Council has been fined £15,000 by Bradford and Keighley Magistrates’ Court following an incident where a school caretaker fell through a ceiling while changing a lightbulb just several days before his retirement on June 22 last year. David O’Hanlon, 61, has subsequently been left with a permanent disability after sustaining a fractured hip and shattered heel bone following the incident where he stepped on to an unboarded area of a loft which the fell from beneath him, at the old Beckfoot School building in Bingley.
He wanted to clear the roof void before the demolition of the old school, so he was changing a light bulb. The caretaker, who was at the school for eight years, was due to take early retirement when the school closed but was staying on until June 27 to supervise the old building’s clearance. A colleague who was also working administered first aid and contacted help when the accident occurred.
After being rushed to hospital, Mr O’ Hanlon needed three screws in his hip and was informed that a hip replacement might be necessary in addition to a metal plate in his heel. If an inspection had been performed by the Health and Safety Executive beforehand, they would have forbidden anyone from working in the loft area until remedial work had been carried out on the building. However, no risk assessment had been put in place.
Morag Irwin, for the Health and Safety Executive said that the loft resembled an “adventure playground” she then went on to say that –
“There was no competent person responsible for health and safety at all on the site,” she said.
Richard Winter on behalf of the Council said the accident had occurred because of a “genuine oversight. He claimed that he school’s management did not know that the loft space was being used. The Council pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety of its employee while they were working. The council was fined £15,000 and £5,667.30 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
Following the hearing, Mrs Irwin said: “This incident was completely avoidable and has essentially dashed Mr O’Hanlon’s hopes and expectations for a healthy retirement.”