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Causation Issue Stymies Assaulted Teacher’s Personal Injury Claim

Employers are required to perform risk assessments and to have policies in place to ensure the reasonable safety of their staff. As a Court of Appeal ruling concerning a pupil’s assault on a teacher showed, however, it can be very difficult to prove that breaches of such duties have caused you injury.

The assistant headteacher suffered a fractured cheekbone and psychiatric injuries when the agitated pupil punched him in the face without warning. In the light of the boy’s deteriorating behaviour, the teacher argued that the attack was foreseeable by his employer and that it had failed to take reasonable steps to protect him. The traumatic incident had prompted his retirement from teaching.

The school educated pupils with challenging emotional and behavioural difficulties who were not in mainstream education. The boy was viewed as generally kind and caring but his behaviour had worsened following a double bereavement. His previous disruptive behaviour had included an attack on the same teacher.

Following a trial of the teacher’s damages claim, however, a judge rejected claims that the boy should have been excluded from the school prior to the index assault. Criticisms of the way the incident was handled also fell on fallow ground and, overall, the judge was not persuaded that the teacher’s serious injury was the result of any breach of duty on his employer’s part.

Ruling on his appeal against the dismissal of his claim, the Court found that the employer had breached the duty of care it owed him in failing to complete a risk assessment in respect of the boy’s behaviour. In breach of its own policies, it failed to conduct either a return to school interview following the boy’s previous temporary exclusion, or a restorative justice meeting between pupil and teacher after the previous attack. The employer had fallen below the standards of care it set itself.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the Court noted that, to succeed in his claim, the teacher was required to prove that the breaches of duty caused his injury and loss. He had failed to establish on the evidence that, if the risk assessment had been carried out or if the return to school interview and restorative justice meeting had taken place, the assault would not have occurred.

Published in
16 October 2022
Last Updated
15 November 2022