Support worker sustains back injury due to pothole

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After a support worker was involved in an accident at work that left her with severe back pain, her union, Unison, instructed Thompsons Solicitors to pursue compensation on her behalf. This case study relates to her claim for back injury compensation. .

The background

At the time of her workplace accident, our client was working for Inverclyde Council as a support worker within the reablement team. Her role required her to travel to service users’ houses and offer them care and support, helping them become independent in their homes following a hospital stay.

On 26 August 2020, our client was visiting a service user who lived in a farmhouse. To get to the property, she had to turn off the main road and drive up a farm track – a track which, full of potholes and dips, was in very poor condition. Because it was pouring with rain, her visibility was reduced, and she could not see where all the potholes were.

As she carefully travelled along the road, she drove over a large pothole, causing her car to rock to one side.

The jolt of the car caused immediate pain in her back. The pain in our client’s back was so severe that she struggled to carry out her duties and care for the service user (because she was a lone worker, there was no colleague to help her).

The next day, with the pain showing no signs of subsiding, she phoned her GP.

The consequences

Our client had a history of back problems. Prior to the accident, she had been experiencing sciatica, which had been improving until she sustained her injury at work.

The impact from the pothole accident had aggravated her pre-existing issues. She started experiencing back pain and spasms, so her GP prescribed her pain medication. However, she had a bad reaction to this medication. She returned to her GP for a physical examination, which revealed she may have suffered nerve damage. She was prescribed different medications, including a muscle relaxer, to help with her back spasms.

Unfortunately, the medication did little to stop the pain. Our client returned several times to her GP, who tried prescribing her courses of different anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and pain medication, all of which were largely ineffective. (One painkiller even made the problem worse because it caused her to feel nauseous and start retching, which further aggravated her back pain.)

As the spasms worsened, our client paid to see a physiotherapist privately. After she attended these private sessions, occupational health referred her for further sessions. However, her employer refused to fund more than eight sessions.

Eventually, her back improved, but she still felt pain whenever she did any heavy lifting, bent down, or sat for extended periods. The pain also disturbed her sleep.

During her recovery, she struggled with basic care, such as showering, dressing, and sitting and standing by herself. Daily tasks, such as shopping, became difficult, and her enjoyment of her hobbies also suffered. She also required a lumbar support cushion to use in her car.

In total, our client was absent from work for over three months.

The settlement

Our client felt let down by her employer, as they did not take her safety concerns about the road seriously. Her pre-existing back problems were known to her employer, and at a team meeting she voiced her concern that driving on such a dilapidated track could injure her back. Other support workers in her team had even complained about the condition of the road before the incident.

We intimated a back injury claim to the employer, and their insurer accepted liability.

To help with the case, we had our client examined by a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. The surgeon confirmed that the accident had aggravated our client’s pre-existing back problems and caused approximately six months of symptoms.

The defenders put forward an initial offer of £2,500. We discussed this offer with our client and decided it was too low. A further offer of £2750 was also rejected.

Soon an offer of £3250 was put forward. We advised our client that this was a reasonable offer in light of the medical evidence. She was happy to accept.

We settled the case on 2 November 2022.

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