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Harding v The Pub Estate Co Ltd, Court of Appeal, 11 May 2005

20 May 2005
The issues

Occupational stress – foreseeability – heart attack

The facts

The Claimant was the manager of the Antelope Public House in Little Hulton on the outskirts of Manchester. It was described as being a rough area. The Claimant was appointed as a temporary manager of proven ability to bring the pub up to scratch so that it could be sold. He worked long hours. In September 1998 he suffered a heart attack. He was admitted to hospital. Three days later his employment was terminated. He alleged that the Defendant was negligent expecting him to work long hours under stress in managing licence premises that were rife with criminal activity and that they had ignored his requests for help. The medical evidence was that the Respondent had had underlying coronary artery atherosclerosis that predated his employment with the Defendant and that chronic severe stress exacerbated or accelerated the process of chronic atherosclerosis formation; that acute stress could act as a trigger for plaque rupture and hence the heart attack. The expert psychiatric evidence was that the Claimant had not developed a psychiatric disorder. The Judge accepted the Claimant’s description of events and the level of stress cause and concluded that the respondent’s working conditions had been stressful and established the premise on which the experts based their opinion. There was dispute between the parties as to what the Claimant had told his employer. The Claimant alleged that he had told his employer that he had seen his doctor and his working conditions were having an effect on his health. But although the Claimant was not shy to complain when there was something to complain about they had no recollection of any such complaints on this occasion. The Judge found that the Defendant should have paid heed when they were alerted to what the Claimant’s doctor was telling him and that something should have done about it. The Judge found for the Claimant. The Defendant appealed the decision.

The decision

It was necessary to look with care at the history of events. Had the Claimant made sufficiently clear and cogent complaints with regards to risk to his health. The Judge had failed to conduct an analysis of the evidence with a view to finding what the Respondent had said to the Defendant and when the Defendant should have been alerted to the risk of a breakdown in his health, whether of psychiatric injury or of the sort of injury that had in fact occurred.

Had the Judge carried out such an analysis he would have found that nothing was said that should have flagged up to the Defendant such a risk. There was no clear sign to the Claimant’s doctor that such a warning should be passed on to his employer.

On that basis no breach of duty was established and it was not necessary to consider the question of causation.

In Hatton v Sutherland, Hale LJ had stated that “to trigger a duty to take steps, the indications of impending harm to health arising from stress at work had to be plain enough for any reasonable employer to realise that he should do something about it”. The Claimant’s evidence failed to get within striking distance of activating the trigger.

Appeal allowed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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