Aileen Cooper, who worked at Bright Horizons Rothamsted Little Stars Nursery in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, today (31 July) secured a legal victory after the High Court found the nursery chain to be liable for her severe disability, caused by placing a baby in a defective cot.
The incident caused Ms Cooper to develop a rare condition known as Cauda Equina Syndrome.
The amount of compensation Ms Cooper (pictured) will receive will be decided at a later hearing.
Cauda Equina Syndrome typically attracts awards well in excess of £1 million, as sufferers are unlikley to be able to return to work and could require fully adapted accommodation and daily assistance from carers.
Ms Cooper’s barrister, Daniel Lawson, successfully argued that her employer, Bright Horizons, failed to follow its own health and safety risk assessments even though it knew she already had a bad back. The nursery group required her to use faulty cots, which breached its own manual handling procedures.
The former nursery worker suffered further injury to her bad back as she lifted a six-month-old baby into a broken cot.
The mechanism on the cot, which had drop-down sides, was defective, meaning the side could not be lowered.
Medical experts giving evidence at the trial said that lifting the baby into the defective cot caused a disc prolapse in Ms Cooper’s back to protrude into her spinal canal, damaging her spinal cord and causing Cauda Equina Syndrome.
Cauds Equina Syndrome is the compression and damage of the nerves at the base of the spinal cord, causing progressively worsening disability. Those with the condition can experience intense neurological back pain, bladder and bowel dysfunction or incontinence, and variable lower limb paralysis.
Judge David Pittaway QC, who led the ruling, 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 is recognised in its own assessment.’
He added, ‘The defendant was aware of Ms Cooper’s pre-existing back condition and did not follow its own guidance for employees with bad backs.’
Ben Posford, a specialist spinal cord and brain injury solicitor at Osbornes Solicitors, who represented Ms Cooper, said, ‘Aileen has been left severely disabled and continues to deal with the after effects on a daily basis. It is saddening that the extent of her injuries could have been so easily avoided if her employer had taken more care to repair the cots in the nursery, and followed their own guidance and procedures for keeping employees safe.’
A Bright Horizons spokesperson said, 'We are disappointed by the judge’s decision, which we believe does not reflect our commitment to the safety and wellbeing of both our staff and the children in our care.'