Occupational ill-health and disease cost the UK £10.6bn in terms of financial cost (loss of production, increased health costs) and human cost (impact on quality of life of the employee and their families). Disease and illness claims, whether long-tail or short-tail, can have considerable impact on employers who may be faced with direct liability for gaps in insurance cover or are tasked with seeking out evidence, documents and witnesses for processes and factories that no longer exist.
Whether it’s dealing with a flood of low value but complex cases on causation and breach of duty, such as NIHL, through to complex historic cases such as asbestos-related diseases and workplace stress claims, our team will help you to make a decision on the right liability response at the pre-litigation stage and effectively manage the post-litigation process to a successful resolution.
Our industrial disease team works with insurers, TPAs, local authorities, public bodies, manufacturing and the leisure industry. The team provides practical advice, grounded in an in-depth knowledge of the issues, our clients and the sectors in which they operate.
We handle the entire range of disease claims at the pre- and post-litigation stages, from requests for personal data to attending inquests, involving various diseases, from NIHL to bladder cancer. We frequently advise on the strategic management of a portfolio of historic claims, where evidence, witnesses, documents or insurance history may not be readily discoverable or accessible.
Our specialist teams across our offices provide clear advice and apply a strategic approach to ensure that lessons are learned, reducing the risk of future claims and to improve defensibility of any claim which may follow.
What we do...
- Asbestos-related disease - causation, foreseeability of risk against standards of the day, evidence collation and retention.
- NIHL - effective retention of generic documents from noise surveys, to training and awareness documentation. We use an online NIHL tool which assists the expert handler to determine hearing thresholds/losses against established criteria.
- Hand arm vibration - handling multi-party claims where foreseeability of risk over the passage of time is of key importance against an understanding of changing HSE guidance, industry standards and legislation.
- Other complex case expertise – including work-related upper limb disorder, dermatitis and respiratory claims such as occupational asthma.
- Stress and bullying at work claims - managing witnesses who may be feeling vulnerable by keeping them fully appraised of the legal process. Providing grievance investigation training to HR professionals.
- Document collation and retention – including dealing with committee reports, archives, storage and documenting to establish an easily accessible reference for future use, ensuring efficient claims handling.
- Insurance and liabilities tracing – with particular reference to public bodies and local authorities where the responsibilities for services change to different organisations following government restructuring of boundaries.
- Training and updates - through our EL/PL and Claims Clubs throughout the year. We also produce a quarterly providing insight from specialist experts, barristers and our team on a range of cases and topics of relevance to the arena.
- Limitation and legacy claim handling.
We successfully defended an occupational asthma claim where the claimant, a leisure assistant with complex mental health issues, alleged she had been exposed to liquid sodium hypochlorite and that the client had failed to provide her with effective personal protective equipment (PPE) on two occasions. Her alleged symptoms were such that she ceased working and became housebound because of increased anxiety. We successfully persuaded the court that even if not defective, the PPE wouldn’t have made a difference. When faced with the claimant’s application for additional expert evidence from an occupational hygienist, this was successfully resisted whilst at the same time securing late permission for our own psychiatric evidence - an important milestone as at first directions the court refused to permit our client to seek their own expert report. The claimant received no payment after a long battle.
A claim by a living mesothelioma claimant where a former police constable was negligently exposed to asbestos during the course of his employment. The case put to the police authority was that there had been exposure to significant levels of asbestos dust in the locker room and basement and that during the course of refurbishments he and his fellow officers were negligently exposed to significant levels of dust because of inadequate safety precautions. The claimant had been based at a number of stations over his period of employment. The claimant had used media to track down witnesses and secure damning supporting statements from fellow officers, which, if unchallenged, confirmed that exposure was likely to be held to be significant. The police authority were unable to offer rebuttal evidence and the documentary evidence was incomplete. With medical causation established, we changed strategy swiftly to explaining the risks to the police authority and ensuring that they had a clear understanding of the evidential difficulties with particular reference to the 'show cause' requirements. We limited outlay and costs by interrogation of the quantum evidence and effective Part 35 questions, drawing out concessions resulting in a satisfactory outcome and compromise.
Employers’ liability NIHL
Acting on behalf of two diverse manufacturing clients, concerning the management of employers’ liability NIHL. We worked closely with our clients to collate and preserve, locally where necessary, numerous historical noise surveys, noise policies, health and safety minutes, together with global and local awareness data. The preservation and ease of access to this bank of evidence has been central to maintaining robust defences, or filtering out at a very early stage the claims that need to be settled. This level of understanding of historical working practices and document retention, not only means that we are considered to be a ready source of information for any new insurer for the clients, but also ensures that we have removed repeat costs from the litigation process by the use of standardised and adaptable disclosure lists, readily accessible from our case management system.
We defended a series of 25 personal injury claims from machine operatives at a factory, all alleging respiratory symptoms ranging from coughs to asthma and extrinsic allergic alveolitis as a result of exposure to metalworking fluids in the workplace. The combined value of these relatively modest claims was approximately £375,000. The civil claims management was complicated by the involvement of the HSE, who had already issued improvement notices, and also the alleged linked death of one employee, requiring attendance at the inquest to represent the insured. Specialist disease lawyers assessed the collated evidence to consider factual causation, medical causation and limitation issues. As the allegations spanned a number of years, we plotted the mutual liability issues against timelines of machine improvement, nature and extent of extraction systems and coolant contamination. A strategic decision was taken to instruct a single medical expert for all claimants, to advise on causation and the extent to which claimants’ symptoms were genuine and related to metalworking fluid exposure, and those which were not. This ensured consistency of approach, close working and control on disbursement spend. As the position on factual and medical causation crystalized, a great deal of headway was made by conducting a series of claims meetings over several days at the claimant solicitor’s premises. To drive home that the aim was to achieve settlement as a whole, we encouraged the attendance of employer representatives. This concerted approach achieved considerable total cost savings for those claims where an award was merited.
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