UK Prison Cook Awarded $160,000 for Back Injury
by Derek Gilna
HM Swansea Prison catering manager Susan Cox, 46, was awarded over £100,000 (about $160,000) following an incident in which a sack of rice accidentally fell on her back. A court in Swansea, Wales had initially rejected her claim, but she challenged that denial and prevailed in the Court of Appeals.
Cox had been supervising six prisoners who worked with her in the prison kitchen as they carried food in from a delivery van. One prisoner got trapped in an elevator while another spilled some rice. Cox ordered the prisoners to stop work while she cleaned up the mess, but as she did so she was struck in the back by a 55-pound sack of rice when a prisoner disobeyed her order, tried to walk past her and lost his grip on one of the bags he was carrying.
As a result of that September 2007 incident Cox suffered spinal pain that forced her to miss work, and she filed for compensation with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Her claim was initially denied after prison officials argued that the “disobedient and foolish” prisoners were responsible for her injury. However, the fact that the prisoners who worked in the kitchen were being paid, albeit only around $20 per month, doomed the prison’s defense.
Barrister Robert O’Leary, representing Cox, argued that “the Ministry should pay for the prisoner’s negligence,” stating officials at the Swansea prison had failed to train the kitchen workers in proper food-handling procedures, and thus should be held liable as the prisoners’ employer.
According to Lord Justice McCombe, “the Ministry of Justice took the benefit of this work and I can see no reason why it should not take its burden. The work [by the prisoners] was clearly done on the Ministry’s behalf and for its benefit.” McCombe was joined by Lord Justice Beatson and Lady Justice Sharp in a February 2014 decision by the Court of Appeals, upholding Cox’s claim.
According to a December 2014 news report, the Ministry of Justice has appealed the appellate ruling to the UK Supreme Court, as it created a precedent for claims brought by prison employees involving injuries caused by prisoner workers.
“The Court of Appeal’s decision provided prison officers like Ms. Cox – injured by inmates behaving as employees – with a crucial, and entirely logical right to claim damages from the MOJ,” stated Glyn Travis, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, the union that represents corrections staff. “We will do everything in our power to block the MOJ’s attempt at removing this safeguard from our members.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson declined to comment.
Sources: www.dailymail.co.uk, www.walesonline.co.uk, www.bbc.com
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