Schools pay out £500k in claims
Compensation bill for Northern Ireland schools hits £578,120 in four years
The compensation culture in Northern Ireland's schools has been revealed in new figures that show pupils have claimed more than half-a-million pounds for injuries suffered.
A total of £578,120 in compensation has been paid out to schoolchildren by education boards in Northern Ireland in the periods 2008-09 and 2010-11.
One six-year-old boy was given £70,000 in compensation after a door was closed on his thumb in 2009-10. Compensation of £62,500 was paid out to a 14-year-old pupil the year before after he was hurt while climbing to retrieve a football.
And a boy who suffered head injuries after being hit by a car at his primary school in 2009-10 received compensation of £50,000.
Teachers' unions have blamed television advertising for creating a compensation culture here.
Seamus Searson, Northern Ireland organiser for the NASUWT, said the blame and claim culture is an "administrative nightmare" for our schools.
And he said education and library boards were being forced to settle pupil claims out of court to avoid huge legal bills.
"When we were all youngsters we all got knocks and bangs everywhere and we didn't go out and sue everybody," he said. "Accidents happen, and unfortunately in the society we live in people want to claim for damages."
The staggering figures have been revealed through a series of Freedom of Information requests submitted to Northern Ireland's education and library boards.
In comparison, five councils in the south of Wales - covering an area about half the size of Northern Ireland's pupil population - paid only £44,999 in compensation over a similar three-year period from 2007-2010.
The Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) made almost half of all compensation payouts here, at a total of £245,059 across 12 claims between 2008 and 2011.
A total of £129,250 was paid out by the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) in 17 claims over the past three years. An eight-year-old boy received a £25,000 payout after he fell in the school playground in 2008-09 and suffered a large lesion on his knee.
Among the successful compensation claims in the past year, a nine-year-old girl got £8,000 after she tripped and broke her arm, while a girl of 11 received £1,500 for fracturing her nose after being hit by a door.
Compensation totalling £107,000 was paid out over the past three years in 10 claims against the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB). A male primary school pupil received the area's largest single claim of £50,000 in 2009-10 for sustaining head injuries after being hit by a car.
And a boy attending a special school in the area received compensation of £5,000 after he broke his wrist while playing a game of football. Belfast Education and Library Board dished out £65,276 to schoolchildren across 12 compensation claims. This figure is more than three times the amount of compensation given out to schoolchildren in Cardiff between 2007 and 2010, which caters for a similar number of pupils. Among the claimants last year was a young boy who suffered facial scars after a school railing fell on top of him. He received a £15,000 payout for his injuries.
The lowest amount of compensation was given out by the Western Education and Library Board (WELB), at a total of £31,534 over the past three years.
The level of compensation increased by more than 62% from £12,034 in 2008-09 to £19,500 in 2009-10.
No compensation, however, was given out by the education authority in the past year. The WELB refused to disclose information on specific payouts.
Mr Searson believes that a mere 2% of all compensation claims here are justified.
But he said education and library boards were being forced to settle pupil claims out of court to avoid huge legal bills.
"From the education and library boards' point of view, to win the case actually costs more money than settling it," he said.
"I think we actually need to go all the way on one of these things one day, but I think none of the boards will be pushing that button at the moment, because they're trying to save money."
Mr Searson said the burden of a growing compensation culture is affecting the work of teachers in our schools and the opportunities available to children.
Speaking about teachers who have had a compensation claim against them, he said: "They tie themselves up in knots having to write statements. It's an administrative nightmare."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: "Education and library boards have a five-board tender arrangement in respect of a panel of solicitors who deal with public and employer liability claims brought against the boards and controlled schools, which provides both cost-effective and expert legal advice and representation."