No compensation for prison employee after workplace injury
The catering manager of a prison in Swansea, who suffered serious back injuries after a workplace injury, has failed in her damages claim against the Ministry of Justice.
The injury involved a heavy food sack being dropped on her spine by an inmate who was working in the jail’s kitchen.
Susan Cox had worked at Swansea Prison since 1994, and was supervising six inmates when one accidentally dropped a 25kg bag of rice on to Mrs Cox in 2007.
One prisoner dropped a bag of rice onto the floor, which burst and spilled the contents. Mrs Cox had ordered the prisoners to stop moving whilst she cleaned up the rice, but a prisoner who was still carrying two sacks passed by Mrs Cox, lost his balance, hit his head, and dropped one of the sacks onto her back.
Mrs Cox brought a claim against the Ministry of Justice, arguing that they should be held liable for the accident on the basis that the inmate, who was being paid to work in the kitchen, was effectively an employee of the prison. However, Swansea Crown Court, stating that employers at the jail could not be held responsible for the “disobedient and foolish” actions of a prisoner on work duty.
The Judge found that the inmate, who was being paid for his work in the kitchen, had “failed to take reasonable care for Mrs Cox’s safety”.
Mrs Cox’s legal team argued that the Ministry of Justice should be held responsible and pay for the prisoner’s negligence, because the relationship with the prisoner was “materially similar to that of employer and employee”. However, Judge Keyser of Swansea Crown Court dismissed the claim stating “the provision of work is a matter of prison discipline, of prisoners rehabilitation and, perhaps, of the discharge of prisoners obligation to the community”. He continued “payment for the work is an element in the process of motivating prisoners, as the prison service orders make clear. The position is not properly analogous to the employment situation”.