16 November 2021

Life-changing legal win: ‘PCS was with me every step of the way’

PCS Ministry of Justice member awarded more than £135,000 in compensation after being badly injured in a fall at work and turning to the union for help

Tina’s life completely changed one day in summer 2014, as she arrived at the magistrates’ court building where she worked as an usher.

As the rain poured down in sheets, she had to pull hard on the heavy entrance door, due to the automatic mechanism being broken. Her hand slipped off the handle and she lost her balance, causing her to fall backwards down a flight of concrete steps and land heavily on her left buttock.

The accident left Tina with chronic pain in her buttock and hip, which needs long-term pain management. Her gait has altered, and doctors say her injury has accelerated the onset of osteoarthritis symptoms. She can no longer enjoy her hobbies in the same way – such as taking long walks and drives – nor sit on the floor for hours playing games with her grandchildren.

‘Pushed me to the wire’

But following a long legal battle against her employer, the Ministry of Justice, this year her life changed again. After taking a successful accident at work compensation claim, our member was awarded more than £135,000 – thanks to the help of PCS, the union’s legal firm Thompsons Solicitors and barrister James Byrne, whom Tina describes as being “like a dog with a bone”.

Over nearly seven years, the MOJ, she says, tried to wear her down, including by claiming she had been standing in the wrong place when she opened the door and by refusing to accept full liability.

This meant the case had to involve two trials: first for liability and secondly for the injury claim.

“They pushed me to the wire. It was just incredible. Two trials was such a waste, apart from the consequences on me and my health,” she said.

Since the accident, Tina has been through numerous medical procedures to assess, and try to heal, her injury and manage the pain. A portion of the compensation money was awarded to pay for pain relief patches for the rest of her life.

“The MOJ was trying to wear me down, and they nearly did. I was on anti-depressants at one stage. I was not only fighting them, I was trying to get a cure for the injury and it was battle after battle.”

Despite being familiar with courts, she said the experience was daunting:

“I remember in the first trial they announced on the intercom ‘[my name] versus the Ministry of Justice to court’... and I felt like a little shrimp against the big blue whale.

“At the second trial I couldn’t have anybody in court with me for support, because of Covid restrictions, but [my barrister] James was so good. He gave me confidence.

“When I heard about what sum was being awarded, I just burst into tears. It felt like everything was falling into place after six and a half years. My family have really been through it too.”

Easily avoidable injury

Tina, who is now retired and lives alone, says she could not have entertained the idea of financing her own legal case.

“I cannot fault PCS for the support they gave me… they were with me every step of the way. Without them, I couldn’t have afforded to have done this. I just didn’t have any money. I would have risked losing my flat to pay for it. I’ve always said you need your union behind you.”

PCS MOJ Group Secretary Laura Bee said: “Our member’s injury could have been easily avoided had the MOJ just fixed the faulty door, but now her life has been changed forever. Her PCS membership gave her access to expert legal services free of charge, which meant her employer was held accountable and she’s kept 100% of her compensation.”

Michelle Blakemore, of Thompsons Solicitors, added that the MOJ’s failing was “nothing short of astonishing”: “What would have taken a fraction of time to repair has changed someone’s life and impacted her relationships with her family. All employers must continuously assess all workspaces to ensure there are no health and safety risks.”

The member’s name has been changed.

Thompsons Solicitors offers PCS members a package of legal support, including for work-related personal injury claims. If you need help at work, contact your PCS rep first. Find their details by logging into PCS Digital.

This article is taken from PCS People issue 3, 2021.