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Q) An accident occurred when a cupboard being delivered to the school fell from the van and injured a teacher who was assisting the van-driver, who was on his own and unable to handle it by himself. Who was responsible for the injury?

A) It is always the person who is trying to be helpful and get a job done who gets hurt. We all know that the delivery company should have sent sufficient staff to do the job properly and we know also that we should not let pupils get involved. It seemed only sensible to give a helping hand and I do not suppose the teacher concerned gave a second's thought before doing so.

If there is a claim for injury arising from this unfortunate incident, there are a number of choices. If the van-driver asked for or accepted the offer of help, the claim might go to the delivery company. If the teacher had acted entirely on his own initiative, the carrier might deny liability and the school or local authority might argue that they have no liability either for what was an act of negligence quite outside what the teacher is expected to do. As it happened on school premises, however, they might well make a payment ex gratia, rather than meet the costs of a legal wrangle. Finally, the teacher might find that his union provides cover for injuries sustained in the course of professional duties, though whether unloading vans counts as a professional duty is the sort of question which keeps our learned friends in gainful employment.

The moral of the tale is, I am afraid, that being helpful may not always be the right course of action. It may be better to leave the moving of cupboards to those who are experienced in the business and insured against the concomitant risks.

Questions should be sent to Helpline, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY Fax: 0171-782 3200

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