Injured teacher wins legal battle against council

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A TEACHER from Bourne, who broke her hip at work, has won her battle to keep the compensation she was awarded – leaving Peterborough City Council facing a near-£100,000 court bill.

The council defended a damages claim, worth less than a quarter of that, by Jean Hadlow who fell and broke her hip while working at Clare Lodge – a secure unit for teenage girls run by the council.

Mrs Hadlow won £16,500 at Lincoln County Court in January, but on Thursday the council challenged the award at London’s Court of Appeal, with lawyers arguing that Mrs Hadlow had met an “unfortunate accident” and the council should not have been held responsible.

But the challenge was dismissed by three of the country’s most senior judges – who ruled it was a “breach of duty” by the council which resulted in the accident.

Mrs Hadlow (67) was injured when she tripped over a chair while trying to catch the attention of colleagues.

The court heard the council had a policy that no member of staff at Clare Lodge should be left alone with more than two pupils – described by the county court judge as “challenging, unpredictable and, at times, dangerous”.

However, on March 29, 2007, Mrs Hadlow was told the teaching assistant who would usually be with her was running late and she asked for a member of care staff to stay with her until the assistant arrived.

Following a “breakdown in communication”, the care workers escorted three pupils to Mrs Hadlow’s classroom and left again.

Realising she was alone with the girls, Mrs Hadlow – who had been attacked by a pupil in 2005 – went to the door, hoping to catch one of the workers before they were out of earshot.

But she tripped as she went through a narrow gap between the back of her chair and a bookcase.

Lawyers for the council argued that, although the authority had breached its duty of care to Mrs Hadlow – by not ensuring there was another staff member present – the way in which she was injured was “not foreseeable”.

Urging judges to overturn the decision, barrister Kiril Waite said: “The correct conclusion, which the judge should have reached, was that this was nothing more than an unfortunate accident – one of the vicissitudes of life.”

But, dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Pill said the county court judge was “entitled” to find Mrs Hadlow’s injury was caused by the council’s negligence.

On top of Mrs Hadlow’s compensation, the council is now facing a bill of just over £80,000 in legal costs.

Lord Justice Pill urged the parties to try and resolve any outstanding issues about costs, to avoid any further expense.