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Express wins compensation for prison employee after injury at work

Client stories

Lisa was working as a prison instructor at His Majesty’s Prison Service when she tripped on a piece of plastic wrapping, resulting in a serious arm injury. The accident marked the beginning of a difficult period for Lisa, mental illness, unemployment and significant health issues all came to a head. Throughout this challenging period, which spanned several years, Lisa relied upon Robert Weeden of Express Solicitors to support and guide her every step of the way. This is her story…

“Lisa’s case is particularly noteworthy and one our team is especially proud of. The challenges we faced were significant, requiring steadfast commitment over several years to achieve a positive result. The complexity was not only due to the additional health problems Lisa experienced after the accident, which made it harder to demonstrate the injury’s impact, but also the defendant’s persistent denial, even questioning whether the accident had occurred at all.”

Robert Weeden, Principal Partner and Employers’ Liability.

Before the accident

Lisa worked at a UK prison as a prison instructor. In 2017, her department received a new washing machine. Working alongside inmates, she was instructed by her supervisor (this narrative would later be disputed during proceedings) to remove the plastic wrapping that covered the machine.
Lisa briefly went to the toilet, leaving the inmates to handle the rest of the unwrapping and tidying up the area.

Injury at work

Arriving back at the scene, Lisa tripped on some of the plastic wrapping that was left directly in front of the door. She landed heavily on her left side, and pain in her arm and shoulder started immediately. The inmate in charge of cleaning the area at the time quickly came over to apologise and assist Lisa. Despite there being no CCTV in operation, her co-worker witnessed the incident, along with a couple of inmates. The orderly officer and on-site medic instructed that Lisa be taken to the hospital and explained that they would file the incident in the accident book.

The days after the accident

Lisa was taken to hospital, where x-rays revealed she had fractured her arm in several places, including the top part of her arm that forms part of the shoulder joint. Surgery was initially discussed, but due to her age (late 50s), her doctor recommended seeing how the injury would heal over time. Instead, Lisa began a course of physiotherapy. The following day, Lisa’s husband phoned the prison to inform management that Lisa had fractured her arm and would be off work for a while. He also asked if the incident had been logged in the accident book, which they confirmed.

Career on hold

Following the accident, Lisa struggled with movement in her arm and was unable to lift above her shoulder. She was given four months of paid leave but was later dismissed on the grounds of medical inefficiency. Lisa appealed internally and applied for medical retirement, but this was rejected by the defendant on the basis that her injury was not permanent, and they expected her to recover before her retirement age.

Surgery was eventually recommended due to her arm not healing properly, but this was delayed due to health issues unrelated to the accident.

Since the injury

Lisa has unfortunately not been able to return to the life she once had before the accident. She has found it difficult to secure employment due to her injury, which has meant she has had to rely on income support. Her family have become her carers, accompanying her when she leaves the house and managing all the domestic chores, including the gardening – something Lisa enjoyed prior to the accident.

All of this has had a detrimental effect on Lisa’s confidence and mental health. She has struggled with depression in the past and, unfortunately, the accident has caused this to resurface. To compound her struggles, Lisa suffered from an eye infection and was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis. As a result, she had to have one of her eyes removed and a prosthesis later inserted, further impacting her self-esteem and confidence.

The defence

The defendant rejected liability, stating that no plastic wrapping was found at the scene. The defendant also claimed that she may have fell on the corner of the washing machine, or maybe even over her own shoelaces. They added that as an employee at the prison, she would have had the adequate training to know that there should have been no obstructions on the floor in the first place, nor should she have left the inmates unsupervised to carry out a manual task.

They also used Lisa’s pre-existing health issues and subsequent health problems to suggest she was a ‘ticking time bomb’ her health was likely to decline, and her long-term prognosis was because of multiple health problems not just the alleged accident at work.

Building a case

Lisa strongly rejected the accident report. It was written without her input, based on second-hand information and contained several inaccuracies. According to the defendant’s narrative, even if Lisa fell on the corner of the washing machine, it was in the wrong place and should not have been blocking the doorway. Photo evidence also supported this view.

Robert Weeden said: “The defendant presented numerous arguments suggesting Lisa was at fault for the accident and consistently claimed there was no wrapping on the floor. They proposed a split trial to contest liability first and then potentially the quantum (the value of damages), which we rejected. We had to build a robust case on Lisa’s behalf to strengthen her position, not only proving that the accident did happen but also demonstrating that her arm injury was significant and the primary reason she could not return to her previous job.”

Our medical experts believed Lisa would struggle to be able to return to employment and would likely remain disadvantaged in the open market due to her injury. They added Lisa was at significant risk of further injury and would not have been able to look after herself in line with health and safety regulations within a prison environment. Further experts explained she would be vulnerable to future depression due to her history, and that the injury was contributing to her existing bout of depression.

A care and occupational therapist assessed Lisa three years after the accident and reported that she still struggled with simple day-to-day tasks such as getting up from the sofa and her bed, getting dressed and bathing herself. The pain remained constant, causing her discomfort and impacting her sleep.

All the experts agreed that without surgery, there would be no realistic prospect of improvement in her shoulder.

Robert added: “The length of Lisa’s recovery and her health problems after the accident gave the defendant grounds to argue that unrelated health issues were prolonging her recovery. Lisa’s reluctance to have surgery before the trial, along with the complications from the COVID pandemic, further compounded the issue and raised questions about ‘failure to mitigate’. We had to strongly defend against these claims with supporting medical evidence.”


The case was heading to a five-day trial with the defendant still refusing to accept any liability. Her co-worker and supervisor, a witness for the defence, could not recall the exact cause of the accident with any certainty, suggesting that Lisa might have tripped over her own laces. This meant the case would hinge on whether Lisa’s account of how the injury occurred was credible and the extent to which her other health conditions contributed to her recovery and prognosis.

“At this stage, we had gathered substantial medical evidence to establish the impact of Lisa’s arm injury on her life and future career prospects, which was challenging given her other health conditions. As with any case, we built a strong relationship with the client, and Lisa’s case was no different. We recognised that she had been through an ordeal, and her mental health issues, including severe anxiety, would make cross-examination on the witness stand particularly difficult for her.

“Following Lisa’s instructions, we presented our evidence to the defendant and agreed on a compensation package of over £50,000, despite their continued denial of liability throughout the proceedings. This was a fantastic outcome and the best we could have hoped for out of court. We spared Lisa the ordeal of a trial, secured compensation to support her recovery, and achieved a positive resolution to allow her to begin rebuilding her life.”

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