School worker who fell off toilet awarded £15,900 in damages
Marie Wallace, 64, suffered a severe injury to her foot in the accident, and initially had been denied an award after a judge said she should have left the window shut rather than attempt such a dangerous manoeuvre.
However, appeal judges disagreed and ruled that Glasgow City Council, which had failed to provide a pole so 5ft 1in-tall Mrs Wallace could reach the window, had breached health and safety regulations and should pay her compensation.
“It was wholly foreseeable that a person, such as Mrs Wallace, would be anxious to be in a position to ventilate the toilet after she had used it,” said the senior judge, Lord Clarke, at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Mrs Wallace, of Clarkston, Glasgow, was a clerical assistant at Kirkriggs School in the city and was a couple of months from retirement when the accident happened in June 2007.
She put her foot on the rim of the toilet bowl and stretched for the window ring, about 7ft above floor level, but the bowl toppled to the side. She landed heavily on her left heel and the bowl fell on her foot. She required surgery for fractures to the foot and a detached Achilles tendon, and her recovery had been “slow and incomplete”, the court heard.
She still suffered stiffness and pain, and there had been a significant adverse effect on her quality of life, including her ability to play with her grandchildren. Following the accident, a pole was kept in the toilet.
At the initial hearing, Lord Tyre said Mrs Wallace could simply have not tried to open the window. He stated: “She agreed, but pointed out that this might have left the toilet in a disagreeable condition for the next user. That may be so, but it does seem to me that if she found herself in a situation where there was no suitable pole readily available… it would be more reasonable to leave the window shut than to climb on to the toilet to open it.”
The appeal judges, however, rejected Lord Tyre’s view as “unreasonable and unrealistic”.
Lord Clarke, sitting with Lords Bonomy and Osborne, said: “Those toilets were used by more than 20 females employed in the school. After having used the toilet, Mrs Wallace wished to open the window in order to ventilate the cubicle.
“The provisions of… the Workplace Regulations required [the council] to address the question as to how the window in question might be opened, closed or adjusted… there was no risk assessment in relation to the use of the toilet bowl for opening the window.”
The judges said damages had been assessed at £31,800, but they believed Mrs Wallace had been 50 per cent to blame for her injuries.