House of Fraser manager sues employer for 1MILLION after 'suffering crippling injuries picking up an earring'Safaa Pate, 31, has handed High Court writ to clothing brand CoastShe reached for earring and 'heard clicking noise and felt her back give way'Coast claim she should have used a stick to pick up the jewellery in 2009
12:25 GMT, 25 April 2013
23:35 GMT, 25 April 2013
Incident: Safaa Pate, 31, outside London's High Court, where she is suing Coast for 1m claiming she suffered crippling back injuries at work whilst picking up a dropped earring
A FASHION shop manager who says she suffered crippling back injuries while bending down to pick up an earring at work is claiming more than 1million in damages.
Safaa Pate, 31, is suing her employers saying she was left in ‘unbearable pain’ after trying to retrieve the earring, which had fallen under a display unit.
She has had to undergo a spinal fusion operation for her ‘irreparable’ back injuries and now has no feeling in her left leg and foot. She also says she has not been able to work since.
The accident happened when she tried to move the display unit to reach the earring while she was running a clothes and accessories concession at a branch of the House of Fraser department store.
She is suing Coast Fashions, the owner of the concession, for more than 1million, blaming breaches of health and safety regulations for her career-destroying back problems. But the company denies any wrongdoing, saying Miss Pate ‘should have used a stick’ to retrieve the dropped earring and arguing that she was ‘the author of her own misfortune’.
In a writ lodged at the High Court in London, her barrister, Caroline McColgan, described how Miss Pate, of Bray in Berkshire, was injured at the store in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, on January 9, 2009.
‘She was performing a stock-take,’ she said. ‘As she was inventorying some jewellery, she dropped an earring onto the floor. It fell underneath one of the gondolas [display units].
‘She bent down and put her hand under the gondola to retrieve the earring. However, it had landed too far in from the edge and she was unable to reach it without moving the gondola. As she did so she heard a clicking noise and felt her back give way.
‘She experienced increasing levels of pain over the course of the day. When it became unbearable she was compelled to leave work and attend hospital for treatment.’
The barrister claims that Miss Pate’s employers were guilty of breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, and had ‘failed to take reasonable steps to provide her with a safe system of work’.
In its defence to the action, Coast
admits it ‘owed her a duty of care as her employer at the time’ but
denies responsibility for any harm she suffered.
Lawyers for the company, which is
based in Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, said: ‘Miss Pate’s work was
light work. She had to move clothes … but she was not required to lift
or carry anything of substance.
‘It was not her responsibility nor
part of her job to move the stands and gondolas. Miss Pate alleges she
suffered injury when reaching for an earring which she had dropped on to
the floor. It is denied it was sensible or reasonable or other than a
breach of her own duty to take care to try to push or move the gondola
to reach the earring.
Court: Ms Pate says she hurt her back at this House of Fraser store in High Wycombe, and blames an alleged health and safety breach
‘If she proves the earring fell under
the gondola, then she should have used a stick or other method of
reaching under the gondola to pull the earring out, or she should have
left it there until help was provided.
‘She should not have tried to move
the gondola. She acted unreasonably, in breach of her manual handling
training and was the author of her own misfortune.’
The case is due to come to trial in
November. After a preliminary hearing yesterday, Coast’s barrister,
Caroline Allen, said Miss Pate was making a ‘large damages claim’ in
excess of 1million.
Coast prides itself on its ‘elegant clothing for young women and ladies’.
Its range includes both formal and
semi-formal clothing and its clothes are sold in House of Fraser and
Debenhams. In 2011 a review called for a ‘rebalancing’ of safety laws
and a dramatic reduction in the number of rules in the workplace.
According to an estimate by the
Institute of Occupational Safety and Health at the time, worker
accidents cost businesses almost 8billion a year in compensation.
The government-commissioned study,
led by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, of King’s College London, said the
safety rules were a financial burden on companies.
Some employees were exploiting the law to sue their bosses for incidents caused by their own carelessness.
The reforms on personal
responsibility were backed by the British Safety Council, which said
that in some cases employers were being unfairly held liable for the
‘negligence’ of their staff.
The Government supported the findings of the review and is planning to implement them.