Case law relating to WRULDs
One of the problems that the courts have faced in dealing with cases relating to WRULDs is that many of the early cases were based not on clearly diagnosed conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome but on more nebulous conditions such as diff use WRULDs or Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). In a well publicised case, Mughal v Reuters, 1993, Judge Jon Prosser reportedly stated that the alleged medical condition, (RSI), did not exist and “had no place in the medical textbook” and went further to state that keyboard operators who were forced to quit their jobs due to aching muscles or joints were “eggshell personalities who needed to get a grip on themselves”.
This judgment caused much argument and was thought be some experts to be anomalous and as such would not set a precedent, there have been very few successful cases where the claim has not been based on a specifi c medical condition.
As mentioned earlier many of the key cases occurred in the early 1990s but it is worth reviewing these as they still form a cornerstone of the legal precedent.
1. Ping v Esselte-Letraset (1992) This case involved none employees at the Ashford, Kent printing works of the defendant who all developed WRULDs including tenosynovitis, epicondylitis and trigger thumb (stenosing tendonitis). They had been employed in a range of general duties, which involved repetitive movements, which, they claimed had led to the injuries. The judgment of the court was that:
• • • •
The injuries had resulted from their work activities
The injuries had been foreseeable by the employer
There was a duty of care owed by the employer to the employees
To comply with that the employees should have been warned about the hazardous nature of the work before they had begun
They should have been instructed to notify their employer of any wrist or arm pain immediately and had the reasons explained.
There should be an on-going process of education and training relating to the risks
In the absence of these procedures, the court found that the employer was liable.
2. McSherry and Others v British Telecom (1993)
Damages of £6,000 were awarded to two BT employees who alleged that they had been injured as a result of working at high speed on keyboards whilst provided with inappropriate furniture. BT appealed against the judgment but the appeal was abandoned when the case was settled out of court. As the appeal was lodged but then abandoned this case does not rank as a legal precedent but is of interest as the fi rst case of its kind where the claim related to furniture.
3. Mitchell v Atco (1995) The plaintiff , who was a motor tester with the defendant, claimed compensation when diagnosed as suff ering from a WRULD. Her tasks had involved signifi cant levels of lifting, turning and twisting. Although she had also been examined by the employer’s medical adviser, the court ruled that:
The evidence of the plaintiff ’s doctors should take precedence over that of the company’s medical adviser.
The defendant had been aware that the tasks carried a foreseeable risk of injury
No information or advice had been given to the plaintiff relating to the risks and consequences of her activities
• The company had no system of job rotation so that the plaintiff was working excessive lengths of time on these tasks
The court awarded compensation of £42,600 based on £27,500 for loss of earning, £6,600 for loss of future earning and £8,500 for pain and suff ering.
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