Employer held liable for attack on care worker

A cordless phone

A recent All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court case has demonstrated that, even in a fluid environment involving people with unpredictable and challenging behaviour, employers must train staff to recognise and react appropriately to changing risks and may be held responsible if they do not.

In Summer 2015, a residential care worker commenced employment with Care Visions Group, Scotland’s largest independent provider of residential services for children and young people who have complex needs. She received two weeks’ initial training, including in de-escalation strategies. This made clear that if a threat were made to someone by a child, a staff member would be expected to create space between the child and the target. If that failed, a calm, physical intervention technique could be used.

She was posted to a residential house where she became a key worker for a girl who had been placed there on a voluntary arrangement due to being beyond parental control. A risk assessment in respect of the girl identified, in the category of “violence, aggression, bullying”, that she was at high risk to both herself and others.

In May 2016, the girl was charged by the police with assaulting another residential care worker. However, in June 2016 her risk assessment for violence and aggression was reduced to medium because her aggressive behaviour had decreased.

In late August 2016 it was the girl’s 16th birthday, significant because the voluntary arrangement would end, and she would decide whether to continue residing at the home. She wanted to go home and live with her mother, who did not want this. In the months leading to her 16th birthday, she became very anxious.

In early August 2016, the girl asked the care worker if she could telephone her granddad. The care worker allowed her to use a cordless telephone. After speaking to him, she telephoned her mother, but her tone changed, and she shouted and screamed. In a phone call lasting a few minutes her mother told her that she could not move back home. At the end of the call the girl threw the handset, causing it to come apart. The care worker picked it up and put it back together. As soon as she did, it began to ring. The care worker answered, and it was the mother. The care worker tried to explain to the mother how well her daughter had been doing recently. Meanwhile, the girl was in the hallway shouting and screaming, but then burst into the living room, screaming at the care worker. Her scale of anger was the worst the care worker had ever seen. She ended the call with the mother, but the girl’s anger did not abate. She threatened to attack the care worker and said she wanted her out of the house. While she was threatening the care worker, the care worker’s colleague was standing nearby. The girl then stormed off in a rage slamming a door.

The care worker’s colleagues attempted to calm the girl down, but she continued to shout and scream, making threats against the care worker. The care worker’s colleague gave the girl a hug and tried to calm her down. She did a little and indicated she wanted to speak to the care worker. The girl and two of the care worker’s colleagues entered the living room.

Suddenly the girl leapt at the care worker and attacked her. She grabbed her hair with one hand and repeatedly punched and kicked her. Eventually the key worker’s colleague managed to pull the girl away.

Following the assault, the care worker attended hospital for treatment, and subsequently sought damages in the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court. The court held that Care Visions Group had a common law duty to take reasonable care for the care worker’s safety and health, and to provide and maintain for her a safe system of working. They held that it would have been apparent to an ordinary, reasonable person in the position of the care worker’s colleagues that a reasonable and probable consequence of their failure to prevent the girl from re-entering the living room would be harm to the care worker. It held that but for the failure of her colleagues to do so, the harm to the care worker would not have occurred. Care Visions Group was liable for the conduct of the care worker’s colleagues acting in the course of their employment. The care worker was awarded £12,000 damages.

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