Court of Appeal rules in favour of injured prison employee in ‘landmark’ case21 February 2014
The Court of Appeal has ruled that a Swansea Prison employee who was seriously injured when an inmate dropped a 25kg bag of rice on her can claim damages from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), in what has been described as a ‘landmark’ judgment for the safety and protection of prison employees in the UK.
Three panel judges at the Court of Appeal have overturned a previous judgment against Ms Cox, so that, for the first time, the MOJ can be held as vicariously liable for injury resulting from the negligence of an inmate ‘working’ in a prison.
Susan Cox, a Prison Officers Association (POA) member and catering manager at Swansea Prison for ten years, had been escorting prisoners as they carried food from a delivery van into the prison. When one of the prisoners accidently dropped a bag of rice onto the floor, Cox ordered the prisoners to stop while she knelt down to secure the bag. However, despite her order to stop, one of the prisoners, carrying two of the 25kg bags, tried to walk past her and dropped one of the bags on to her after losing his balance.
Following the incident, Ms Cox suffered from agonising pains in her spine and sought legal advice from her union, the POA, who referred her case to Thompsons Solicitors to investigate a claim for damages against the MOJ.
In the first hearing in February 2013, her barrister, Robert O’ Leary claimed that the MOJ should be held vicariously liable for the Ms Cox’s injuries, as the negligent prisoner was taking part in running the catering department at the prison. However, the judge at Swansea County Court ruled that, whilst he found the prisoner to be negligent, the prisoner’s work was not analogous to employment and as such, the MOJ could not be held liable for the negligence of a prisoner.
Following this ruling, Ms Cox took her case to the Court of Appeal, where the original judgment was overturned on the basis that the prisoner’s work was “akin to employment”, thereby setting a precedent for how injury resulting from the negligence of a working prisoner may be treated in the Courts.
Susan Cox said: “My back has not been the same since the incident and I was forced to medically retire from a job I loved. I was astonished to learn that I was not protected because of a legal technicality. The support from the POA has been fantastic and despite my injury, I am pleased that at least others will now be able to receive compensation if they are hurt in an accident that is a prisoner’s fault.”
Glyn Travis, Assistant Secretary of the Prison Officers Association said: “Today’s judgment means that prisons can no longer use a legal loophole to evade their responsibility to ensure a safe working environment for their employees. We supported our member throughout the process and we are delighted with the outcome of this landmark case.”
Catherine Cladingbowl of Thompsons Solicitors said: “It is entirely logical that where a prisoner is behaving as an employee and a member of staff is injured as a result of their negligence, that the member of staff can claim damages from the MOJ. We are pleased with the outcome of this case which means that prison employees are now much better protected at work.”
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