A former prison officer who was dismissed from the job she “loved” after a car accident that wasn’t her fault left her unable to fully return to work has been awarded more than £300,000 in damages by the Royal Court.
The Royal Court heard that, had it not been for the incident in which her stationary car was hit from behind in 2016, leaving her with neck and shoulder pain which later required surgery, she would have made significant progress within HMP La Moye.
Instead, however, the officer - who the court noted was "one of few of her peers to have a university degree" - saw others with a shorter length of service promoted in the years following the accident while she was not. She ultimately had her job contract terminated after 10 years' service, and needed to retrain in another sector.
She had also been forced to spend thousands on medical treatment, including physiotherapy, cortisone injections and psychotherapy.
As a result, the former officer sought damages covering her medical expenses, loss of earnings and retraining fees from the driver of the car who had hit her. The driver did not dispute liability.
Pictured: The case was heard in the Royal Court in February.
During the case, which was heard last week, the Royal Court was told that the prison had made "adjustments" to the woman's day-to-day duties after her accident, but in 2019 told her that the situation could not be made permanent and terminated her contract.
The Royal Court heard that the crash victim had difficulty sleeping, opted to use public transport instead of driving and now cycles in preference to driving. In July 2018 she had surgery on her shoulder but, although this allowed her to recover some movement, she subsequently experienced intermittent flare-ups of pain in her neck and shoulder.
As part of her job as a prison officer, the woman was required to take a periodic fitness test and in January 2019 her surgeon recorded that she was "very worried about the forthcoming control and restraint test, and was concerned that she would not pass it".
Deputy Bailiff Robert MacRae, who was sitting with Jurats Elizabeth Dulake and Alison Opfermann, described the minutes of an incapacity hearing held at the prison on 20 March 2019.
They recorded that the then prison governor acknowledged that the woman had given her best effort in trying to pass the fitness test and return to her former fitness level but he said that, although the prison service had accommodated her over the previous 2½ years – and had made a reasonable adjustment to her duties – the situation could not be made permanent.
The minutes recorded: "[The governor] reiterated that today was not a reflection of [the woman's] competence in the role or performance of the role over the last 10 years. [He] stated that [she] did not have the option of redeployment under the capability policy... but could apply for alternative work (including within the SOJ) and was being supported with this. [He] stated that the decision reached was for [the woman] to be dismissed due to capability with a two-month paid notice."
The governor went on to thank her for her service and said that he was "sorry that the accident had caused this".
Commenting on this approach, the Deputy Bailiff said: "In fact, and perhaps unfortunately, no steps were taken to redeploy the plaintiff within the wider States of Jersey. She was merely informed of what vacancies existed in the same way as would be available to a member of the public. In any event, the plaintiff did her best, not merely to retrain, but to resume employment," he said.
Mr MacRae noted that an employment expert had observed that the former officer had a "fine record of gaining qualifications necessary for her career".
After her dismissal she secured a number of jobs, including returning to Jersey Bowl as an assistant manager, where she had worked before joining the prison service.
"She did not enjoy turning back the clock and returning to a job that she had done 15 years before, but it allowed her to gain some 'much-needed self-confidence' and earn some money," Mr MacRae said in the court's judgment.
Subsequently, she undertook voluntary work and later secured a job at a charity.
The Court noted in its judgment that the woman "continues to be employed at a lower salary than she enjoyed as a prison officer, let alone at the rate of pay of a Senior Officer, which we have found that she would have obtained but for the accident."
It also heard that the injuries resulting from her accident would have long-lasting effects in the decades to come, which may impact her future employment opportunities.
"The Plaintiff will be affected when she is in her late fifties/early sixties and although the extent of the disability will be substantial, it is unlikely to prevent her from working altogether but will make her less attractive on the labour market. She will doubtless make full disclosure of her symptoms to any prospective employer and it is possible that she may only be able to work part-time," the Court noted.
She was ultimately awarded damages of £312,082.
The award included special damages of £132,659 for loss of pension, £111,706 to compensate for loss of earnings and £30,000 for loss of earning capacity. £8,634 was awarded to cover medical treatment, and £6,700 for retraining in a new role.
Advocate Frances Littler represented the former officer, and Advocate Eleanor Davies represented the defendant.
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