Harpenden nursery worker wins compensation claim

Aileen Cooper

Aileen Cooper - Credit: Archant

A FORMER worker has won a legal victory against a children’s nursery after hurting her back placing a baby into a defective cot.

Aileen Cooper, 45, worked at the Rothamsted Little Stars Nursery in Harpenden which is run by American childcare company Bright Horizons Family Solutions.

Mrs Cooper, who lives in Luton, claimed the nursery was in breach of health and safety regulations when it required her to place a six-month-old baby weighing 7.26kg into a broken cot at work. The cot had a drop down side, which was supposed to prevent employees injuring themselves when lifting babies in and out, but in Mrs Cooper’s case the mechanism was defective so the side could not be lowered.

She suffered her injury in June 2009 when she leaned over the side of the cot to lower the baby into it. Just as she was placing him on the mattress she suffered a sharp pain in her back.

She then sat on a chair to soothe the baby as he lay in the cot. As she twisted her back to put her arm over the side of the cot, she heard a loud crack and her legs became heavy and numb.

Medical experts giving evidence at the High Court hearing said that the incident caused a disc prolapse in Mrs Cooper’s back to protrude into her spinal canal, damaging her spinal cord and causing a rare condition known as Cauda Equina Syndrome.

Mrs Cooper’s barrister, Daniel Lawson, successfully argued that her employer had failed to follow its own health and safety risk assessments even though they knew she already had a bad back and required her to use faulty cots in breach of their own manual handling procedures.

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Yesterday Judge David Pittaway agreed with Mrs Cooper’s case and said: “The question of what does involve a risk of injury must be context-based. Although lifting and putting down babies in cots may in the context of ordinary life be an everyday activity, in the context of a nursery it is necessary for the defendant to have developed procedures for doing so, a fact which it recognised in its own assessment”.

Awarding judgment in Mrs Cooper’s favour, he went on: “The defendant was aware of Mrs Cooper’s pre-existing back condition and did not follow its own guidance for employees with bad backs.”

Cauda Equina Syndrome is the compression and damage of the nerves at the base of the spinal cord, causing progressively worsening disability. This includes intense neurological back pain similar to permanent sciatica, bladder and bowel dysfunction or incontinence, and variable lower limb paralysis.

The amount of compensation Mrs Cooper will receive will be decided at a later hearing. Cauda Equina Syndrome typically attracts compensation awards well in excess of £1 million because sufferers seldom return to work, require fully adapted accommodation and daily assistance from carers.