Scottish Council Responsible for Paintbrush-in-Eye Injury

The Court of Session in Edinburgh has ruled that North Lanarkshire Council is responsible for an accident that occurred seven years ago, involving a 10-year-old boy and a foot-long paintbrush. In April 2003, Thomas Brown, now aged 18, was working with his classmates at the Ladywell School in Motherwell to produce scenery for a school show. The children had been equipped with foot-long wooden paintbrushes, which comprised thin rounded tips. When a girl stood up and knocked into Thomas, the boy was sent tumbling forwards into the path of another student. Unfortunately, the third pupil was holding one of the paintbrushes in his hand at the time and, as Thomas lost his balance, he fell onto the brush.

In what must have been a truly horrific scene for students and teachers to encounter, Thomas’ left eye was pierced by the paintbrush. In fact, the thin-end of the brush had travelled deep enough into the schoolboy’s eye to cause “catastrophic” brain damage. Thomas’ father, Christopher Brown, believes that Ladywell School was responsible for the accident, as teachers ought not to have allowed pupils to work with the paintbrushes in such a way as to give rise to the possibility of an injury occurring. Hearing Mr Brown’s case in the Court of Session, Judge Lady Dorrian agreed in principle that North Lanarkshire Council was ultimately responsible for Thomas’ injuries, because teachers had failed to prevent a foreseeable risk of harm.

In her written ruling, Lady Dorrian explained some of the mechanisms at work in the law of negligence. The judge stated: “Foreseeability is not the same as frequency – an accident might rarely happen yet nevertheless be foreseeable.” In regard to the case at hand, Lady Dorrian wrote: “When one looks at the whole circumstances of the use of the brush a real risk of injury emerges as foreseeable. A reasonable person in the position of the teachers would have taken steps to prevent that foreseeable risk of harm to Thomas.” Commenting on the teachers’ decision to allow the children to paint the scenery on the floor, Lady Dorrian added: “There was no persuasive reason why the task could not have been done at desks.”

A spokesperson for North Lanarkshire Council stated that the authority was in the process of reviewing Lady Dorrian’s findings and, as such, it would be inappropriate for the council to comment further on the issue. Christopher Brown had sought damages of £2.5 million from North Lanarkshire Council but must wait until the court reconvenes at a later date before he discovers how much compensation will be awarded.

The size of Mr Brown’s claim reflects the seriousness of his son’s injuries and long-term health complications. In addition to leaving Thomas with no sight in his left eye, the personal injury claim asserts that the boy suffered “a number of permanent disabilities” after sustaining “catastrophic” brain damage, including significant fatigue, inability to concentrate and memory loss. The claim also suggested that Thomas would not be able to live an independent life as a result of the accident.

Personal injury claims involving incidents in schools are relatively common in the UK, with many such accident claims arising after slips, trips or falls. Christopher Brown quite rightly argued that the school ought to have foreseen the dangers of allowing children to use the paintbrushes while kneeling or crouching on the floor. Unfortunately, no amount of compensation will restore Thomas’ right to a normal life. Nowinnofee provides professional legal services to people who have been injured in accidents that were caused by somebody else’s negligence.

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