A disabled woman who has been left virtually housebound after she fell into a gully at the edge of a disabled parking bay has received compensation after help from her trade union.

The UNISON member from Darlington, who uses a stick to walk and has a disabled badge after four major operations on her spine, has lost her confidence so much she has only left the house on her own once since the accident in 2010.

The 66-year-old was injured in a Cumbria County Council-run car park in Sedburgh on a day out with her husband. Her husband had backed their car into a disabled bay and having walked slowly round to the back of the car to get her walking stick from the boot she stepped back and fell into an unguarded and unmarked gully. She hit her head on the ground and was knocked out.

As a result of the fall the former sheltered housing worker suffered an aggravation of the symptoms in her neck and back for four months, developed headaches and a phobia of going out on her own. She is still receiving counselling and recently was able to take a taxi into town on her own for the first time since the accident.

Thompsons Solicitors made claim for compensation

When, four weeks after telling the council about her accident, her husband showed her that the council had not done anything to make the car park safe she decided to contact her trade union, UNISON, to find out more about making a claim.

She said: “We couldn’t believe it when we went back to the car park. We thought that something would have been done to make it safe, you don’t have a disabled parking space and a hole for people unsteady on their feet to fall into. They obviously didn’t care and I decided there and then to make a claim to make them do something so that what happened to me didn’t happen to anyone else.”

UNISON instructed its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors which settled the claim against the council out of court for £7,000.

Since the claim the council has filled-in the gully, fitted bolsters and yellow lines have been painted along the tarmac.

The member said: “I knew that UNISON provided free legal services as part of its membership but I thought it would just be advice and I would be on my own. In fact what seemed like a difficult thing to do all went smoothly with the union lawyers helping me through it.

“The most important thing for me out of all of this is the council has now filled-in the gully and no-one else can be injured like I was.”

Gully was an obvious potential risk to users of this car park

Gill Hale from UNISON added: “Our legal services are free to union members whether they are injured in the workplace or during their own time. This member had every reason to think that a disabled bay would be safe to walk around. A day out for her was a big thing and she ended up worse physically, as well as suffering a real knock to her confidence. This has taken away her independence over the last two years. Councils have to make sure that the streets, and parking spaces – especially for the disabled – are safe to use.”

Diane Davison from Thompsons Solicitors said: “This gully was an obvious potential risk to users of this car park, particularly to disabled members of the public. It was a trap and a simple risk assessment of the car park layout would have revealed that.”