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The defendant nursery was liable to the claimant nursery nurse, for damages to be assessed, for serious back injury caused as a result of her placing a baby into a cot whose side was defective and could not drop down.
The claimant worked as a nursery nurse for the defendant. On 2 June 2009 she was working in the baby room. The claimant's case was that the mechanism of the cot was broken and the side would not drop down. Holding a baby, the claimant went right up to the cot, in order to put him down on the mattress. She was unable to bend her legs as the cot side was too high. As she was about to put him in the cot, she felt her back go. She fetched a chair and placed the chair next to the cot. She placed her left arm over the side of the cot to sooth the baby. As she lowered her arm she felt something snap and was aware of a sharp pain in her back. She was admitted to hospital with a major prolapse of the L5/S1 disc and suspected cauda equina syndrome. She made an incomplete recovery from surgery. She brought a claim against the defendant for personal injury. Liability was tried as a separate issue.
The court accepted the claimant's evidence that there were two stages to what occurred: the first stage was when she was lifting the baby into the cot and first experienced back pain, and the second stage was when she sat with her arm over the side of the cot, when she suffered further pain. The court accepted that the mechanism for dropping the sides was broken, and this had been mentioned to various managers and senior staff.
There was a breach of the absolute obligation contained in reg 5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 to maintain the cot in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair. There was also a breach of reg 4 of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 which requires an employer ‘so far as is reasonably practicable, [to] avoid the need for his employers to undertake any manual handling operations at work which involve a risk of their being injured.' Regulation 4 was engaged because there was a real and foreseeable risk of injury in undertaking the manoeuvre in question without being able to put the cot side down. The defendant's specific assessment identified risks in respect of holding loads away from the body and in relation to twisting. This risk was avoidable by being able to drop the cot side down. The claimant did not receive training on lifting babies. The defendant was aware of the claimant's pre-existing back condition but did not follow its own guidance for employees with bad backs. The risk assessment should have included the situation where babies are soothed by nursery nurses sitting on the chair next to the cot.
The court accepted the evidence of the claimant's spinal expert, that but for the claimant leaning over the cot to put the baby down she would not have sustained a major disc prolapse resulting in cauda equina syndrome. Further damage was caused to the disc whilst the claimant was sitting on the chair beside the cot. On the defendant's evidence, it was not open for them to submit that the claimant would probably have gone on to develop cauda equina syndrome in any event but for the injury sustained when leaning over the cot.
There was judgment for the claimant with damages to be assessed.
The defendant challenged the claimant's account of the accident circumstances by relying on what they said were inconsistencies in the medical records with the description of how the accident occurred. The judge was critical of this approach, commenting that ‘too much emphasis can sometimes be placed on short histories taken by medical attendants for purposes wholly unconnected with any subsequent litigation.'
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