Court Success: Employer not liable for incident caused by volatile service users

  • The claimant sustained an injury whilst running a tutor group at a residential home for young criminals
  • The claimant made 35 allegations including; lack of training and allegedly expressed reservations about taking the session
  • The judge found that our Insured were not in breach of duty in any material way

Background
The claimant was an employee of our Insured and brought a claim following an accident in August 2012.  He was a Design Technology Instructor at a secure residential and educational home owned and run by our Insured.  The home accommodates young people predominantly on remand or convicted of serious criminal offences, and as such their behaviour is often unpredictable and violent.  Due to the nature of the unit and the traits of the residents all doors are locked at all times and are accessed by staff using electronic key fobs.  In addition all staff are given personal alarm systems, personal radios, and the premises are monitored by CCTV.  The claimant had only taken up his post a few weeks prior to the accident and following a period of induction and training had taught in his own right for approximately 4 weeks.

The accident occurred when the claimant was conducting a tutor group session for 4 pupils.  Part of this involved providing feedback to pupils on points which they had gained or lost through good or bad behaviour.  During the course of the session there was a disagreement between the pupils, which resulted in a table being upturned and striking the claimant on the hand.

Legal Arguments
The claimant made 35 allegations in total, but they fell into 4 broad categories:

1.  He should not have been required to conduct the session – he alleged to have expressed reservations about it.
2. He had not been trained on the points system, and thus should not have been asked to conduct a tutor group where the points system was discussed.
3. He should not have been asked to conduct a group involving the 4 particular boys, as there had been some mild disturbance between them the previous night.
4.  He should only have been asked to conduct the group with additional precautionary measures, such as within a room closer to the control room.

Much was made of the fact that the personal alarm system recording system had been turned off, meaning that calls were not registered.  Data from key fobs helped identify staff member’s movement although all sides agreed this was not 100% reliable in terms of timing’s.  In addition the CCTV footage was not retained as the claimant had not made any complaint about the way the incident was handled at the time, and thus it was erased after 28 days.

Decision
The judge found that our Insured were not in breach of duty in any material way.  In summary he found:
– the claimant had difficulty in capturing and retaining an accurate account of the incident.
– our witnesses evidence was credible in that the claimant had been trained, did not express reservation in taking the tutor session, and the disturbance the night before had been nothing out of the ordinary and gave no cause to separate the boys concerned.
– the claimants training was adequate and he was sufficiently familiar with the boys in question.
– there was some criticism of the Risk Assessments but these did not have a causative effect.

Commentary
This is a heartening decision for organisations who provide valuable services such as the Insured in this case.  Employees will always be at risk working alongside volatile services users, but as this case shows, there may not always be a legal liability if an unfortunate incident does occur.

This claim was handled by Janine Ward in our Catastrophic Personal Injury Team.

Summary Prepared by Steven McGhee
6th December 2017