Occupational stress—establishing liability
Occupational stress—establishing liability

The following PI & Clinical Negligence guidance 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?
  • Breach of duty
  • Impact of statutory regulations
  • What difficulties does the claimant face in establishing causation?
  • What damage is the defendant liable for?

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 described Hatton as ‘useful guidance but it must be read as that’. Hatton, therefore, provides practical guidance but cannot be regarded as absolute.

The development of this area of law post-Hatton indicates that many of the issues that arise are case specific and generalisations are difficult.

Common law principles of employer’s liability apply

All employers owe a duty to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees: among other things, that duty requires them to provide a safe place of work and a safe system of working. In effect, it is now well established that stress cases are no different in terms of liability from other occupational injury claims—the ordinary common