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Helping hands

01 November 2005

Mr T, a chartered physiotherapist, runs courses for employees of healthcare and social institutions on safe client-handling techniques. He ran a course on behalf of a housing association attended by Ms F, a 35-year-old housing warden.

After a day of theoretical instruction on safe techniques, the group practiced a sit-to-stand manoeuvre for infirm but cooperative patients. One of the delegates acted as ‘the patient’ so that the technique could be rehearsed. Ms F completed the course and there were no apparent problems until she launched legal proceedings, against Mr T and the employer who had sent her on the course, several months later.

Ms F alleged that she sustained a spraining injury to her neck as a result of lifting a heavy ‘patient’ during the sit-to-stand manoeuvre. Mr T noted that the manoeuvre should not have involved any lifting as he taught it. 

Expert opinion

We asked an expert occupational physiotherapist for their opinion. They assessed Mr T’s teaching and techniques, finding they were ‘the correct way to explain and demonstrate this assisted manoeuvre’.

The training was felt to be entirely appropriate to the delegates’ needs and complied with established standards and guidelines in this field. The expert’s opinion was that no injury could have been suffered by Ms F unless she had disregarded the instruction she received during the course and had attempted to pull or lift the ‘patient’.

Orthopaedic and neurosurgical expert opinion noted evidence of cervical spine degenerative disease and minor foraminal stenosis that affected Ms F before she attended the course. Any injury she may have sustained should have recovered over a period of six months or so. Ms F alleged severe ongoing neck and arm symptoms that prevented her from working.

We defended Mr T as there was no evidence to establish a breach of duty or causal link to Ms F’s problems as a result of his course. The case went to trial and Ms F’s claim was disallowed with an order that Mr T’s defence costs be met.