Injured teacher sues over fallen branch

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A secondary school teacher is suing the Environment Agency for up to £300,000 after she was left unable to work by a falling branch from a tree, it was disclosed today.

Doreen Prior has not returned to the classroom since being injured by the diseased branch of an ash tree as she walked on a popular public footpath at Barcombe Mills, near Lewes, East Sussex, in April 2007, her solicitor said.

She sustained a cut to her head as a result of the impact, but since the accident she suffers from tiredness, impaired memory and has difficulty in multi-tasking.

Ms Prior, a teacher for 10 years, is unclear about when or whether she will be able to return to work because of the health issues which resulted from the incident.

Her solicitor, Laura Middleton-Guerard, said if there had been a proper system of inspection by the landowner, the Environment Agency, then the poor condition of the branch would have been identified.

Ms Middleton-Guerard said today: "We are not going for a high threshold. We are not saying that the tree should have been inspected every 10 minutes, but perhaps once every two years.

"If someone had just walked along and glanced at the tree they would have seen its condition. It was a tree adjacent to the public footpath on a high usage site."

She added: "It's not a test case, it's a fact-sensitive issue. There was nothing in place until much later after the accident, and had someone walked along the footpath and seen the condition it was in, that would have been fine.

"We are dealing with someone who has suffered a serious head injury who is now reliant on her family both financially and emotionally, and this has had an impact on her quality of life.

"What we are trying to do is restore some of that quality of life for her."

Ms Middleton-Guerard said the Environment Agency had denied liability and there are no current measures in place to fund Ms Prior's rehabilitation.

Ms Prior, who lives in the village of Barcombe, declined to comment today, asking for all inquiries to be made via her solicitor instead.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: "The case is with our solicitors."