Belfast Telegraph

Injured teacher: I sued my St Bride's Primary in south Belfast to highlight unsafe, icy conditions while walking to Nativity play practice

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

A teacher whose compensation claim against her school was thrown out by a High Court judge says the case was about "highlighting unsafe conditions".

Margaret McErlean told the Belfast Telegraph that she would have settled for a "fraction of the maximum scale amount" if her personal injuries claim against her school had been upheld on Monday.

The teacher, who had worked at St Bride's Primary in south Belfast for more than 20 years, slipped and broke her arm in December 2010 in icy conditions while accompanying schoolchildren on a walk. As a result of her injuries she was unable to work for several weeks.

She and several other teachers were required to walk a group of 50 pupils along Windsor Avenue to a nearby church for a Nativity play practice.

Ms McErlean claimed her employer was negligent. However, a High Court judge ruled that the school was not guilty of negligence, nor was in breach of its statutory duties.

If her case against the school's trustees and board of governors had been upheld, the court was told Ms McErlean may have been awarded a maximum of £25,000 in damages.

In a letter to the Belfast Telegraph, after we published details of the case on Tuesday, the teacher said: "The Teachers' Union, the NASUWT, supported my claim. It was not, as the article stated, for a large sum of money.

"I was prepared to settle for a fraction of the maximum scale amount. It was also about highlighting the unsafe conditions of the road along which I was being forced to take a large group of young children."

Mr Justice Horner dismissed the negligence case on Monday and ruled that Ms McErlean was not entitled to damages for the "unfortunate accident".

He said that all activities carried a risk and that schools should not "abandon a worthwhile activity simply because there is a risk of injury".

However, Ms McErlean added: "On the day of the incident I had voiced my concerns about the unsafe and icy conditions. My comments were noted but dismissed and I was given no choice but to accompany the children on a walk which I had clearly stated was inadvisable and unnecessary.

"In fact, I had made a personal request to remain in school.

"The claim for compensation was for an injury which caused real pain and disruption, but what is almost equally painful is to be labelled as part of the current 'claim culture' for what I had considered a purely personal and private matter."

The High Court heard that there were freezing conditions on the day of the accident.

After the headmaster in December 2010 had walked nearly the entire route, he concluded the footpath was passable with care.

However, Ms McErlean had disagreed, complaining that it was foolish to make the journey in the conditions, but other teachers backed the headmaster's assessment.

QUOTES

"On the day of the incident, I had voiced my concerns about the unsafe and icy conditions.

"My comments were noted, but dismissed.

"The claim for compensation was for an injury... but what is almost equally painful is to be labelled as part of the current 'claim culture'."

Teacher Margaret McErlean

Belfast Telegraph

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