Claiming compensation for being assaulted at work
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Mrs Vaile worked at Dycorts School in Essex as a teacher for 14 years. The children she dealt with had special needs and Mrs Vaile was devoted to her job. However, she suffered a serious assault at the hands of one of the pupils. Her injuries included a multiple detached retina and severe psychological injury resulting in a depression, which left her unable to work.
This was not the first time the pupil had been violent and only three weeks before the incident in question he had hit Mrs Vaile in the face and head. Had another member of staff not intervened then Mrs Vaile’s injuries on this first occasion could have been far more serious. Just prior to the second assault the pupil had grabbed and bruised the hand of another teacher.
A key issue was whether or not the pupil was autistic. Evidence appeared to indicate that the school did believe from a pre-incident audit that he had autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), however they had failed to inform Mrs Vaile of this. Nor was she ever provided with appropriate training or techniques in how to handle difficult pupils. This was important as two experts agreed that the situation was such that Mrs Vaile should have been given specific training on dealing with ASD sufferers and a structured and consistent approach for dealing with the pupil who assaulted her.
While the Court accepted that the School had failed in providing appropriate information and training to Mrs Vaile the Judge did not feel that an unsafe system of work had led to the assault. Her personal injury claim therefore failed and no compensation was awarded.
The decision was appealed. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the original Judge and found in favour of Mrs Vaile.
The appeal Judges stated that if it was accepted that the school did not provide the necessary information or training then logically there was an unsafe system of work. The Court of Appeal did not agree that Mrs Vaile was at fault for not asking for extra measures to be put in place after the first assault. In fact they made it clear that they would have reached the same decision regardless of whether or not the first assault took place.
The school tried to argue that Mrs Vaile shouldn’t succeed as she was unable to show what might have been done to prevent the assault. The Court of Appeal felt that as long as Mrs Vaile was able to show there was negligence and that the injuries she suffered were of kind you would expect to have resulted from that negligence then this was enough.
The Court of Appeal also considered the issue of risk assessments. They felt that the injuries suffered were exactly what one would expect if a risk assessment had not been carried out or if the correct procedure and structure had not been in place. If a risk assessment had been carried out it would have identified the risks that Mrs Vaile faced and steps could then have been taken to address the risk and reduce it. As it wasn’t, the likely risk to Mrs Vaile was increased.
Mrs Vaile’s claim shows the importance for employers to continually ensure that risk assessments are kept up to date and that all appropriate issues are addressed which arise from them.