backpainA Manager at a high street fashion chain is suing her employer for more than £1m, claiming that she suffered “crippling injuries” from picking up an earring.

Safaa Pate was running Coast’s clothes and accessories concession at the House of Fraser department store in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, when she bent down to retrieve the earring, which had fallen under a display unit.

Ms Pate said that she suffered “irreparable” back injuries which left her in “unbearable” pain, and claims her career and health have been destroyed because her employer broke health and safety rules.

She has had to undergo a spinal fusion operation for her injuries and now has no feeling in her left leg and foot, and has been unable to work since the incident.

The former Manager is suing Coast Fashions, the owner of the concession for more than £1m, blaming breaches of health and safety regulations for her back problems.

However, Coast Fashions insists the company is not to blame. It says Ms Pate was the “author of her own misfortune” because she “should have used a stick” to retrieve the earring, which had fallen under a display unit she moved out of the way.

In her High Court writ, Ms Pate claims she underwent major spine surgery and has been incapable of work since the incident in January, 2009, and her Barrister, Caroline McColgan, said the earring had fallen under a gondola shelving unit during stocktaking.

She said:

“She bent down and put her hand under the gondola to retrieve the earring.

“However, it had landed too far in from the edge and she was unable to reach it without moving the gondola out of the way. As she did so she heard a clicking noise and felt her back give way.”

She continued:

“She experienced increasing levels of pain over the course of the day. When it became unbearable she was compelled to leave work and attend hospital for treatment.”

Ms McColgan also argues that Coast “failed to take reasonable steps” to provide a safe system of work and is guilty of breaches in the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

In response, the Coast’s Barrister, Caroline Allen, said Ms Pate was making a “large damages claim” in excess of £1m.

She said:

“Miss Pate’s work was light work. She had to move clothes but she was not required to lift or carry anything of substance.

“It was not her responsibility, nor part of her job to move the stands and gondolas. Miss Pate alleges she suffered injury when reaching for an earring which she had dropped on to the floor. It is denied it was sensible or reasonable or other than a breach of her own duty to take care to try to push or move the gondola to reach the earring.”

Allen continued:

“If she proves the earring fell under the gondola, then she should have used a stick or other method of reaching under the gondola to pull the earring out, or she should have left it there until help was provided.

“She should not have tried to move the gondola. She acted unreasonably, in breach of her manual handling training and was the author of her own misfortune.”

The case is expected to come to trial in November.