Here is one unsuccessful stress trial followed by two successful settlements.
Failure to reassure after asbestos exposure: stress claim
The claimant was covered in asbestos at work. He alleged psychiatric injury as a result of his employer’s failure to investigate the incident properly and failure to reassure him about his health concerns.
The Judge found that is was not reasonably foreseeable that psychiatric injury would arise from a failure to investigate such an incident properly. The Judge did criticise the investigation and the failure to give a full, prompt and accurate version of events to the claimant. However, he said this failure gave rise only to a foreseeable risk of anger but not psychiatric injury.
The claimant then argued that, after the initial lack of investigation, it became clear from his own conduct that he was at risk of psychiatric injury unless given reassurance. The Judge applied the test from Hatton: “were the signs plain enough”?
In the aftermath of the initial investigation, the claimant had gone off sick with a sick note marked by him: “STRESS.” Despite impressive return to work policies on paper, the claimant was never interviewed on his return.
Nevertheless, the Judge found an adequate safety investigation had by then taken place and accepted the Defendant’s evidence that the claimant was adequately reassured about his safety after his return. He found that achieved everything a return to work interview would have done to reassure the claimant.
But colleagues described his subsequent behaviour as still “paranoid” or “erratic”.
The Judge found that the knowledge of colleagues could not be imputed to managers because the colleagues had no professional welfare concern. He found managers had no direct or constructive evidence that the claimant was behaving in an odd fashion.
The claimant struggled on and finally went off work for good after a further argument with a manager about safety issues. Nevertheless, the Judge found that at no stage before his departure from work was it reasonably foreseeable by his employer that he would suffer psychiatric injuries. Case dismissed.
3 December 2007, Liverpool County Court.
Bad reference settlement
The claimant was successful in her interview for a dream job. The job offer was subject to reference. A supervisor provided a reference that effectively lost her the job.
The reference was so bad that she submitted a grievance at work that it amounted to “victimisation”. The reference also contained a number of issues that had never been raised with the claimant.
Her grievance was upheld and council’s insurers then admitted liability almost immediately. They initially offered £750 in settlement of her claim but it finally settled for £36,000.
She received an award for loss of wages in the job she would have secured as well as an award for losing work she would have enjoyed
Merrett-Brown -v- South Tyneside Council
Council delay investigating suspension causes stress
The claimant was a playground worker. He was suspended on a charge of allowing children into the playground at an unauthorised time; teaching weight training to children beneath the minimum age of 16 and encouraging bad behaviour by the children in the presence of members of the council.
It took the council 14 months to clear him of this charge. The council did not stay in contact with him at all during this period despite requests for updates. The council’s own stated policy was to update progress on suspensions every 10 days but they did not do this once.
They also failed to organise counselling for the claimant despite recommendations from their own occupational health service during this period that the claimant would benefit from this. They denied liability but settled the claim for about £35,000 inclusive of repayable benefits one month before a trial.
Salmon -v- London Borough of Lewisham