Dinner lady receives compensation for fall at work

A school dinner lady, who was knocked down in the playground by a pupil playing tag, has returned to court in her fight to claim compensation for her injuries.

Michelle Orchard was hospitalised for six weeks and has been left partially paralysed after the accident in January 2004. The accident happened when a thirteen-year-old boy ran into her in the school playground whilst playing tag with his friend during the lunch break at Corfe Hills School, in Corfe Mullen, Dorset.

Mrs Orchard, 42, was just walking out of the maths building when he ran backwards into her, hitting her in the face with his head and knocking her to the floor. She sustained a broken nose and damaged teeth as well as suffering serious brain damage, which has led to her developing partial paralysis and balance problems.

Mrs Orchard is suing the boy for hundreds of thousands pounds and if she is successful it could mean the end for playground chasing games such as tag. She had her damages claim against the schoolboy dismissed at Winchester County Court by Judge Ian Hughes in May 2008. Her legal team are now battling to convince an appeal court that he was wrong to do so and secure some compensation for Mrs Orchard.

The Civil Appeal Court heard how Mrs Orchard still suffers from seizures and severe headaches five years after the accident at work. As she appeared in Court, leaning heavily on a walking stick, she said: “I went to work one day and my life was changed forever.”

Speaking in court her barrister Anthony Coleman, argued that Judge Hughes ruling gave teenagers “carte blanche” to play chasing games at school “without needing to give a second thought to other children, teachers, or dinner ladies, who might happen to end up in the way.” He also said that the judge’s findings were “seriously flawed, principally because they attribute wholly insufficient and socially unacceptable levels of responsibility, awareness and foresight to children who are more than old enough to know better.”

Mr Coleman added that the boy had run full tilt backwards into Mrs Orchard, without ever glancing over his shoulder and without giving a thought for her safety.

The court also heard that the accident did not happen on the schools official playground but on an outside walkway.

The teenager’s solicitor Benjamin Browne told the court: “This appeal raises a stark and important question. Does the law have any part to play in the regulation of simple, time honoured, playground games between young children? We contend that it does not and that, to conclude otherwise, would place an unwarranted and undesirable restriction on the normal, healthy development of a child. He was doing no more, no less, than many children of his age have done in the past and will no doubt continue to do so in future. The court should be slow to come to a conclusion that might inhibit children’s use of play areas during break time.”

Mr Browne went on to quote from a statement from the Local Government Association issued in September 2008. He said: “We do our children no favours by wrapping them up in cotton wool. It is time to take a stand against many aspects of the compensation culture and accept that there are going to be a few scratches and grazed knees because that’s part of growing up.”

The three judges presiding over the hearing, Lord Justice Waller, Lord Justice Rimer and Lord Justice Aikens heard from Mr Browne that it would be a shame if modern children- who spend the majority of their time watching television or playing computer games, were to be inhibited from playing tag or other such like games in school playgrounds. He said that if the court awarded Mrs Orchard compensation it would be taking the law far too far.

The three Court of Appeal judges have reserved their decision for a later date.

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