Occupational stress—establishing liability
Occupational stress—establishing liability

The following PI & Clinical Negligence practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Occupational stress—establishing liability
  • Common law principles of employer’s liability apply
  • Foreseeability of injury
  • Which factors are relevant to foreseeability?
  • Factors relating to the employee’s work
  • Practical problems in obtaining evidence
  • Factors relating to the employee
  • Is an employer entitled to believe what the employee says about their psychiatric health?
  • Breach of duty
  • If injury is foreseeable, when will the employer be under a duty to take action?
  • More...

Many claims for psychiatric injury arise from a single event or series of events. In contrast, occupational stress claims normally arise from events that have occurred over a longer period of time. Claimants in occupational stress cases are usually primary victims and, therefore, they should not need to meet the control mechanisms used in secondary victim cases.

In Hatton v Sutherland, the Court of Appeal heard four appeals in relation to psychiatric illness caused by stress at work and Hale LJ provided guidance for these types of cases. One of the cases went to the House of Lords where it is known as Barber v Somerset County Council. Lord Walker (House of Lords in Barber) described Hatton as ‘useful guidance but it must be read as that’. Hatton, therefore, provides practical guidance but cannot be regarded as absolute. In fact, the House of Lords in Barber v Somerset reversed the decision made by the Court of Appeal (on the claim of Barber). Whereas in the Court of Appeal, the judgment of Lady Justice Hale had found that it was ‘[…] expecting far too much to expect the school to pick up that (the claimant’s) problems were continuing without some such indication’.

Walker LJ found in the House of Lords that the school, once alerted to the claimant’s difficulties with coping with workload and stress should have

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