Personal Injury

Nursery admits causing baby’s third degree burns when passing scolding hot gravy over his highchair

baby burns to arm

Jane Woodcock

Consultant Lawyer

7 min read time
15 Aug 2018

An eight-month-old baby boy suffered third degree burns at his nursery as a pot of scolding hot gravy was spilled over him after staff passed it through a serving hatch above his high chair.

Despite the boy suffering extensive burns to his left arm, which required six months of treatment at a specialist burns hospital, staff at the nursery failed to call an ambulance.

Now, following legal action through Hudgell Solicitors, the nursery has admitted being at fault for the accident and the injuries suffered, agreeing a damages settlement with the boy’s parents.

Thankfully, despite being told he could be scarred for life at the time, his injuries have since healed well and now, almost three years later, are barely noticeable.

But his mother, who had placed her baby in the nursery at eight months to return to work, says the psychological scars and impact of what happened will live with her family, and most probably her son, forever.

“It was awful, absolutely horrifying and perhaps one of the worst things imaginable as a parent,” said the mother, 33.

“He was in complete agony. To see your little boy suffering in that way was horrendous. I  was called at work just a couple of hours after dropping him off and told to get to the nursery quickly as there had been a serious accident and my baby had been scolded.

“They didn’t tell me any more than that before they put the phone down so I didn’t know how it had happened or where he had been burned. They were clearly in complete panic.

“Luckily my work was really close so I sped there in minutes, but when I opened my car door I could hear him screaming from well outside the building. You know your own child’s cry and I just didn’t know what I was going to see.

“When I went in the staff were in a complete panic. There were people holding him by the sink and he was just in a nappy with a towel around him. They’d had him in cold water and he was screaming in pain. It was so heart-breaking and upsetting to see him so distressed.

“When they pulled the towel back and I saw how bad the burns were I couldn’t believe it. His skin was hanging off his arm and it was bright red. I was so angry and I screamed at them for not calling an ambulance. It was like they’d all gone into panic mode and was utter chaos.”

Legal claim highlighted nursery’s ‘lack of any regard for safety’

As part of the legal claim Hudgell Solicitors alleged the nursery had ‘failed to have any regard for the safety’ of the baby by serving hot gravy through the serving hatch and placing his high chair under it, thereby exposing him to ‘the foreseeable risk of injury’.

Failures to implement health and safety policies and ‘provide competent employees’ were also alleged, as was the failure to provide adequate training to employees, specifically in respect of caring for babies and young children and in First Aid.

Hudgell Solicitors, handled the legal claim on the family’s behalf, and said the care was ‘so poor it was beyond belief.’

“Having any food or liquid of a scolding temperature around babies and children shows a disregard for their safety, but to pass it through a hatch with a baby’s chair underneath it was so poor it is beyond belief,” he said.

“It is hard to imagine that anybody who had never cared for or looked after babies and young children before would have made such a basic mistake, never mind people who are supposedly trained professionals.

“The saving grace in this case is that the boy has made such a good recovery and is well. It could have been so much worse.”

‘Not calling an ambulance was unforgivable’

The baby was initially seen by paediatric consultants at hospital after being taken by his mother herself, and subsequently sent to a specialist burns unit, where he needed to be sedated to allow medics to calm, assess and treat him.

“I feared the worst at some points because they didn’t seem to be able to calm him at all,” his mum added.

“He was still screaming in hospital and his temperature kept rising dangerously. The consultant at the hospital also told us the nursery staff had done everything wrong.

“He said that by stripping him of his clothes they had caused some of the skin to be pulled away and by bathing him in cold water he could have gone into shock. It was just a complete mess and they were clearly not prepared for such an emergency.

“Looking back now that angers me most.

“Accidents shouldn’t happen, but they do, so when a nursery is looking after children they should be trained and ready to respond appropriately. They should not be panicking in that way. As parents we expect them to be able to respond in the best possible way. Not calling an ambulance immediately was unforgivable.”

The boy spent the first week following his injury at the hospital burns unit with his mother and father by his side 24 hours a day.

It meant his siblings, seven and four at the time, had to stay with their grandparents, as they often did as he needed to be taken back to hospital for special baths and for his bandage to be changed over the coming months.

He also faced another spell in hospital two weeks after being discharged, as his arm became infected due to his body reacting to the burn, requiring antibiotics.

As his health improved, he was still unable to use his left arm due to the injuries, preventing him from crawling.

His arm become weak and limp as a result of not using it and he needed physiotherapy as a result, along with silicone treatment for around six months to toughen up his skin.

Mother thankful her baby’s injuries from ‘accident waiting to happen’ were not worse

“It was such a difficult time. You go through so many emotions. I was angry at the nursery, but mostly worried and upset for my baby boy,” the mum added.

“It was obviously horrendous for him but also for his sister and brother as they were trying to come to terms with what had happened and the impact on us all. I of course was worried about what it meant for the long-term for him, whether he’d have a large scar for life and whether it would affect him and maybe cause him to be bullied.

“Thankfully he has been lucky and the scarring has faded. The doctors were fantastic.”

The mum says she has had little contact from the nursery other than in the immediate days after the incident on December 1, 2015, but says she hopes lessons have been learned.

“There were just so many things wrong they must have learned lessons. It is why we took legal action. It was never about money, it was about highlighting the very serious failings,” she said.

“It is just staggering to think they were serving hot gravy to babies in the first place. I still leave it to cool first for my children now, and serving from a hatch over a high-chair was just an accident waiting to happen.

“I’m still angry, and it is only seeing my son get better which has helped make it easier. It could have been so different though.”

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Nursery admits causing baby’s third degree burns when passing scolding hot gravy over his highchair

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