Our client was a workman, employed by a housing company via an agency, who usually worked with a colleague on two man jobs. On the day of his accident he had been told to work alone until his colleague joined him in the afternoon, despite a full day’s work for two men and his suggestion that he started work at the same time as his colleague. He was left to load multiple heavy items needed for the job onto a lorry at the depot alone, drive them to the address where he was to work and then unload them single handed, moving them with a wheelbarrow to the rear garden some distance away. He then had to lift and move numerous heavy paving slabs in the garden to prepare the ground for a new patio and path. As the morning progressed he experienced worsening back pain, which became severe by the afternoon and the following day he was in so much pain he struggled to move. He sustained a lower back Injury, resulting in a disc bulge and muscle spasms and was unable to work for 14 weeks. We were able to recover personal injury compensation for him of £3,800.
A summary of events is set out below.
Date of Accident: July 2015
Time between formal instruction and successful conclusion: We took on the case in September 2015 and settled it in February 2017. This case took some time to conclude due to court proceedings being issued and a subsequent lengthy court hearing being necessary.
How the claim proceeded: Having sent a formal letter of claim to the housing company we believed were responsible for our client’s injuries, we received a response from their insurers, denying liability. The denial was based on a claim that our client had never contacted them to report his injuries or advise that they were work related. They also claimed the work he was asked to do on the day of his accident was acceptable for one person and that heavier jobs could have been left until his colleague arrived. However, the risk assessment they provided clearly stated that the day’s work should have incorporated mechanical lifting equipment and an assisted “two man” lift where appropriate, due to the weight of paving slabs and other materials used. Our client responded stating that not only had he phoned his work colleague the day after his accident to explain the cause of his injuries and why he could not attend work, but he had also phoned his manager to explain the same and corroborated this with a copy of his telephone bill detailing when the calls were made. He also explained that the housing company had initially told him they would keep his job open until he was fit to return to work, but then advised him they would be terminating his employment on the basis that if an incident such as this happened again, they would be liable.
By October 2015 our client was still not able to return to work and was having regular physiotherapy treatments to assist his recovery. We therefore obtained copies of his medical records and arranged for him to be examined by an A & E Consultant. It was December 2015 before we were in receipt of the medical expert’s written report, who concluded that our client had suffered severe symptoms from his injuries for nearly 3 ½ months, required physiotherapy treatment, but was expected to fully recover within 12 months of the accident. Three months later, we were in a position to fully value our client’s claim for compensation and propose a settlement to the insurers, but they failed to respond, simply reiterating their denial of liability.
Were Court proceedings necessary?: Yes. As we had been unable to reach a settlement with the insurers, we had no option to commence court proceedings against the housing company in February 2016, with an eventual court hearing date set for December 2016
Was a trial necessary?: Yes. In December 2016 the trial went ahead with several witnesses expected to give evidence. Our client was subjected to a lengthy cross examination questioning when he first felt back pain, the work he did on the day of his accident and the items he had collected from the depot and taken to the property. His partner was also asked to give evidence to corroborate his attendances at hospital and his GP. Later that day, the first witness for the housing company was asked to give evidence. He claimed paving slabs needed for the work that day were already loaded on the van our client used, but this seemed largely irrelevant, as he still had to unload them at the property alone. He went on to explain an elaborate way of moving slabs from the flat bed of the lorry to the wheelbarrow without having to take the weight of them, which appeared highly implausible. It also became apparent that his knowledge of Health & Safety relating to manual handling tasks was lacking, as he freely admitted he had never seen diagrams from the HSE guidelines concerning the frequent lifting and lowering of heavy items. As the day progressed, the Judge determined there would not be enough time that day to conclude matters, so adjourned proceedings until a later date and encouraged both parties to attempt settlement of the case in the meantime. Following the first day of the trial, and with our client’s agreement, we put forward another settlement offer to solicitors representing the housing company, but they rejected it and refused to negotiate further.
In late February 2017 the trial concluded, with the Judge commending our client and his partner for being honest, straightforward witnesses and accepting their evidence regarding the pain our client suffered and the reporting of the incident to his employer. He had criticism for the housing company for their failure to carry out more detailed risk assessments and a lack of training for manual handling tasks. He made a judgement in favour of our client, awarding him £3,800 compensation.
Outcome: The client secured £1,900 for his injuries and £1,900 for his financial losses, including his loss of earnings.
Comment: The outcome of the trial showed that the company failed in its duty to our client to reduce his risk of injury whilst carrying out manual handling work tasks and it is why they were held responsible for paying him compensation and the costs involved in the case.
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