Landmark Supreme Court Case Redefines Personal Injury Law
The Supreme Court, the highest Court in the UK, has recently ruled a landmark decision confirming that the former employees of the chemical company, who developed a sensitivity to platinum salts, should be compensated – even though their condition was symptom free personal injury.
This decision has basically redefined personal injury law accepting that an asymptomatic physiological change caused by employer’s negligence can constitute an actionable personal injury.
There was no dispute that the employees were negligently exposed to platinum salts by their employer and that they developed platinum salt sensitivity. Although this was symptom free personal injury, further exposure to platinum salts can trigger an antibody that would be likely to lead to allergic reactions, including asthma, rhinitis and skin rashes. Therefore, when the employees’ condition was detected, they were no longer permitted to work in areas where they might be exposed to platinum salts and moved to different, but less well-paid roles or their contracts were terminated.
Since the workers had not yet developed the symptoms, the question was whether they had suffered sufficient damage to be actionable, or whether, this was simply a claim for pure economic loss.
Contrary to the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, both the High Court and Court of Appeal decided that employees cannot claim compensation against their employers as the sensitivity to platinum salts was not actionable. However, in allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court found that it is an actionable symptom free personal injury caused by employer’s negligence.
The Company, the Respondent, argued that there was no practical risk of the employees encountering platinum salts in daily life. Yet, the Court rejected this argument, stating that “Ordinary everyday life is infinitely variable. For these claimants, their ordinary everyday life involved doing jobs of a type which, by virtue of their sensitisation, they can no longer do”. Furthermore, the Court clearly stated that the sensitivity to platinum salts whilst symptomless did constitute an ‘actionable’ personal injury claim. The judgement states:
“Suppose that the claimants were coffee tasters, employed because they had the ability to distinguish different flavours and qualities of coffee, by smell and taste. Suppose further that, through negligence, their sense of smell or taste became impaired in a way which would be of absolutely no consequence to anyone who was not employed in this particular role but meant that they could no longer do their jobs and had to seek other employment. I venture to suggest that there would be little difficulty in accepting that the changes to their bodies were actionable personal injury”.
The judgement can be accessed here: https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2016-0140-judgment.pdf
It should be noted that this blog post provides general information regarding the subject matter.
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