Harpenden nursery worker’s £2-million claim

PUBLISHED: 06:34 13 July 2013

Nursery worker Aileen Cooper, pictured in the wheelchair, has made a claim for a £2 million damages payout.

Nursery worker Aileen Cooper, pictured in the wheelchair, has made a claim for a £2 million damages payout.

Max Evans

A NURSERY worker who said she suffered a crippling back injury lifting a baby into a cot at a Harpenden nursery has heard her claim for a £2 million damages payout compared to a “win on the National Lottery”.

Aileen Cooper, 45, of Bank Close, Luton, is seeking compensation from Bright Horizons Family Solutions Ltd, the owner of Rothamsted Little Stars Nursery, based at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden.

The High Court was told last week Mrs Cooper sustained debilitating spinal damages which left her in a wheelchair after she felt her back “crack”, and blames a defective cot for the accident.

The mother-of-three told Judge David Pittaway she was working at the nursery on June 2, 2009, when she lifted a seven-month-old baby into a cot with a damaged drop-down side, which was secured upright with plastic ties.

Bright Horizons, a childcare chain, denies it breached its duty in failing to supply proper equipment, training and a risk assessment and that the alleged accident was the cause of Mrs Cooper’s disabilities.

Urging the High Court to dismiss the claim Michael Lemmy, for Bright Horizons, said: “It is almost like the National Lottery for Mrs Cooper.”

He warned that if the judgment went in her favour and she successfully established a claim “for nothing more than the straightforward and simple task of putting a baby in a cot, it would be a very concerning decision by this court.”

Mrs Cooper said that after feeling a crack in her back when she had put the baby in the cot, she immediately “felt heavy and tingly” with pain setting into her back later.

She was diagnosed with a prolapsed disc, which the court heard led to Cauda Equina Syndrome – a condition that reduces movement in the lower body.

Daniel Lawson, for Mrs Cooper, said she was now “severely disabled” and required a wheelchair or crutches to get about.The barrister said despite Mrs Cooper working in childcare for more than a decade, she was now also “severely handicapped on the labour market”.

Mr Lawson argued that Bright Horizons, which owns 200 nurseries and preschools in the UK and Ireland, breached the duties they owed their employee under regulations relating to manual handling and workplace equipment.

However, Mr Lemmy insisted, “there is no real risk of injury involved in lifting babies” and that Bright Horizons had done everything they were obliged to do.

He told the judge: “In essence, what you are being asked to find is that nurseries and childminders are in breach of statutory duty if there are high cots with fixed sides in their premises. That simply cannot be right.”

Spinal surgeon Firas Jamil said Mrs Cooper’s injuries were consistent with her straining her back over the cot and that her “symptoms are likely to worsen over time”.

But John Webb, also a spinal consultant, suggested her disabilities stemmed from a pre-existing back problem, adding, “lifting a baby into a cot is not a very stressful activity – people do it every morning”.

Judge Pittaway reserved his decision on Mrs Cooper’s case until a later date.

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