Court Success: A welcome result for local borough council

  • Zurich Municipal welcomes the court success of Gateaud v Wirral MBC - Liverpool County Court
  • The claimant teacher failed to establish negligence or breach of statutory duty following an accident at work
  • The claimant’s case was primarily based on regulations 5 and 11 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (WHSWR)

A claimant teacher failed to establish negligence or breach of statutory duty following an accident at work when she was hit by a door opened by a pupil entering the classroom.

The Facts

The claimant was employed by the council as a teacher. She had paused beside a pupil’s desk to answer a question when she was struck on the back by the classroom door which had been opened quickly by a pupil.

The claimant’s case was that the layout of the desks in the classroom and the position of the door (in the centre of the wall as opposed to a corner) was an inherent risk such that the workplace was unsafe. She also alleged that the dampening device did not adequately slow the opening of the door and there should also have been a latch on the door.

The claimant’s case was primarily based on regulations 5 and 11 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (WHSWR). To support her claim she referred to previous similar accidents.

The council’s case was that the door was not defective or dangerous in any way and the layout of the classroom and desks was a matter for the claimant. Further, the purpose of the dampening device was to ensure the door returned to a closed position and to prevent finger trapping rather than to slow the opening speed.

Judgement

The claim was dismissed. The judge held that the claimant had autonomy as to the layout of the classroom and she had accepted in evidence that she did not consider the layout to be dangerous in any way. Even if the door was positioned in a corner of the room the risk of someone being struck by it could not be eliminated.

The claimant’s suggestion that there should have been a latch had to be weighed against other factors such as preventing/slowing movement of pupils from the corridor to the classroom and limiting egress from the classroom in the event of an emergency. The door was not dangerous or defective and there was therefore no breach of the WHSWR and no negligence.

This accident pre-dated the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and the claimant’s case was heavily focussed on the potential for strict liability on the part of the council under WHSWR. However, the classroom was an unremarkable scene that was similar to many other schools. The door was not defective and the potential for further safety measures had to be weighed against the extent of the risk and the effect of such measures having regard to the reality of the school environment.

This claim was handled by Gail Wilkinson in our Newcastle Casualty Team. Our panel solicitors Weightmans represented us at Court.