Court success: school has no case to answer after employee injures finger

  • A school faced a claim from a female employee whose finger was injured after a gust of wind caused a door to shut suddenly
  • The school successfully argued there had been no previous problems with the door and finger guards were not necessary
  • The judge agreed the injury was an accident, with nobody at fault

X v Our Lady’s RC Primary School

Background

The claimant sought damages of up to £10,000 following an accident at the primary school where she worked, which left her middle finger requiring partial amputation.

On 18 December 2014, she was holding open an internal fire door to allow children to access the lobby to meet their parents, when a gust of wind caused the door to move, trapping her finger.

The law

A claim was brought under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The claimant also alleged common law negligence.

Legal arguments

It was argued on behalf of the defendant that the door did not require finger guards as it was only to be used by staff, or by children under staff supervision.

Further, it was argued there were no problems with the door before or after the accident, and that a finger guard was only fitted after the accident as an additional precautionary measure.

Finally, it was argued that the claimant had been the author of her own misfortune, in failing to hold open the door using the handle on the outside, or by using a door wedge.

Decision

After hearing the claimant’s evidence, the judge made preliminary comments that he was struggling to see how the claim could succeed, as the claimant herself could not explain how the accident happened.

A tactical decision was made at this point to submit that there was no case to answer and not to call any evidence from the defendant, and this was successful.

The judge held that even taking the claimant’s case at its strongest, she could not establish negligence against the defendant. He agreed it was just an unfortunate accident for which no one was to blame, and that the defendant had not breached its duty to the claimant, while at work.

Commentary

It is a useful case highlighting that accidents can and do occur without fault, and in such circumstances defendants should not be afraid to repudiate such claims if pursued.

This claim was handled by Helen Ewen in Zurich Leeds Casualty Claims, supported by Lisa Wood of Weightmans LLP. Tom Carter of Ropewalk Chambers provided representation at court.