In the last issue of the Bulletin we reported two successful cases of claims arising from assault by pupils. In another case, the decision did not go our way. The claimant was an educational teaching assistant at a main stream junior school. She was assigned a pupil with a history of behavioural problems whom she looked after on a one-to-one basis. She was leading the pupil into the school hall for morning assembly when he deliberately tripped her up causing her to fall and suffer injuries. She said that she had been given insufficient information about the pupil or training in how to deal with pupils that were violent or disruptive and that she should have been given instruction and training about letting go of pupils as soon as they become disruptive.

However she admitted in cross-examination that she had previously observed the pupil misbehaving. The pupil had also been disruptive five minutes before the accident and had been calmed down by another teacher. The claimant accepted that she did not believe she had got to the stage where, even if she had received training about relinquishing the grips on children, she would have done so. The incident happened within 2-3 paces and was “over in a flash”. The claim was dismissed.

Winter -v- Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council. Leeds County Court, 9 May 2007

Highway cases

Two contrasting cases:
a) The claimant was crossing a road. She stepped off the pavement into a drain cover the site of which had eroded some 35 mm. Her foot went down the side of the drain cover and she suffered injury. The accident was reported to the council who inspected it and said that it was not a priority as intervention level on a carriageway was 40mm. At the date of trial it had still not been repaired.

At trial the defendants said that it was not dangerous although they accepted that, due to the busy nature of the area then, there had been a risk. The Judge commented that, although he was sympathetic to the inspectors due to their pressure of work, he wondered how bad areas could get before intervention was made below 40mm.

We had taken photographs of the general area that showed poor maintenance systems, not only at the area of the defect but the surrounding area, to see if the authority adhered to its own codes. The cost of the repair was assessed at less then £40. The Judge found in favour of the claimant with a deduction of 15 per cent for contributory negligence.

Morris -v- Kingston Upon Hull City Council. Kingston Upon Hull County Court, 2 May 2007

b) In the second case, the claimant was a caretaker. He had driven out of the school premises and parked outside the gates on the driveway to the school. He stepped out of his van into a pothole and twisted his ankle. The Highways Authority had been inspecting the area and had noted the defects for several years before but did not categorise them in need of immediate repair, just that they needed to be monitored.

The depression was 26mm and had been noted on inspection three days before the accident. It was repaired five days after the accident. It was accepted that the area would be used by pedestrians to cross to get to the other pavement and to cut across to go into school. It was a large school with 1,200 pupils. We argued that the inspection guidelines in relation to pathways and not carriageways should apply, the difference being that any depression of 20mm or above in depth in a pathway would require immediate attention.

The Judge rejected the claim saying it did not constitute a dangerous defect.

Fox -v- Wolverhampton City Council. Birmingham County Court, 4 May 2007.