The North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) has to pay $1.27 million in damages to a registered nurse who suffered a miscarriage and a back injury after falling off a defective chair almost six years ago. The authority also has to pay the woman’s legal costs.
The woman, now 35, had sued the NCRHA for negligence, personal injuries and breach of care, contract and statutory duty arising from the October 29, 2014 fall and another incident two years later. She continues to experience back pain, has to undergo surgery, and was diagnosed with 40 per cent permanent partial disability. Attorneys Imran Khan and Saajida Narine represented her in the matter.
In the 49-page judgment, Justice Margaret Mohammed said, “An employer owes a duty of care to provide a safe place of work to its employees.”
The nurse, then 29, was on duty at the Adult Surgical Ward at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex when she went to the nurse’s station to write up her notes. However, as she sat on a chair one of the legs broke, causing the then eight-week pregnant nurse to fall forward, hitting her abdomen on the desk and then falling flat on the floor in an upright position. The chair then struck her on her back. She began experiencing abdominal and back pains. Tests were done, including two ultrasounds, but no foetal heart rate was detected. No x-ray was done because she was in her first trimester. She was put on bed rest and given a follow-up ultrasound appointment in two weeks. However, on the morning of the appointment, she began experiencing abdominal pains and spotting.
A week after she had a miscarriage. She returned to work a month later but had to take emergency sick leave as she was still experiencing effects from the fall. From November 23, 2014, to August/September 2015 she proceeded on various periods of sick leave, during which time she was assigned to the Ophthalmology Ward to perform light duties. However, the nurse said several times she had to perform tasks that involved pulling, pushing, lifting, or bathing patients, including those who were obese, which put an increased strain on her back.
Recalling the events leading up to the second incident which exacerbated her injury, she said on September 26, 2016, she requested assistance on the ward as she was the only registered nurse on duty with two nursing students, but she received no help. She said a customer service representative (CSR) told her to attend to a patient who was admitted that weekend but had received no bath. The nurse explained to the CSR that she did not have help to bathe the patient and could not lift, push, or pull heavy objects due to an injury. However, she was told it was about patient care and instructed to attend to the severely obese patient who was on oxygen, connected to intravenous fluids and other intravenous infusions and could not even lift her leg.
Describing the patient’s condition as deplorable, she said her pamper was full of urine and faeces. The nurse said it was the first time she ever had to gag her mouth. With help from the nursing students, she tried to roll the patient to the side of the bed to take off the patients pampers but she felt her back snap. The nurse said she was unable to move for a while but eventually helped the nursing students clean the patient as best as she could. However, throughout the remainder of her shift, she experienced horrible back pains. From October 16, 2016, she went on another period of sick leave and to date, she has not returned to work.
In total, the nurse took 821 days of injury leave. Although still employed at the authority, she stopped receiving a salary since September 2017. She had another child on April 2, 2018, but due to the injury her pregnancy was difficult and she was unable to have a natural childbirth.
In awarding damages, the judge attached significant weight on the impact the injury had on her ability to do certain activities and care for and interact with her young son. The judge said it was also highly probable that she missed out on opportunities to improve her skills for promotion and seniority having been away from work for five and a half years. The judge also considered that after surgery, the woman might be able to work but due to the residual pain, she would not be able to work beyond the age of 50.
The judge ordered $340,639.94 for exemplary damages and general damages in the sum of $250,000, both with interest, $585,000 for loss of future earnings and $60,000 to pay for her surgery.
The authority was represented by attorneys Ken Wright and Emmilene Constance.