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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

30 DEC 2014

(1) Daniel Greenway (2) Waynsworth Dryden (3) Dean White (4) Simon York (5) Tony Cipullo v Johnson Matthey PLC [2014] EWHC 3957 (QB)

(1) Daniel Greenway (2) Waynsworth Dryden (3) Dean White (4) Simon York (5) Tony Cipullo v Johnson Matthey PLC [2014] EWHC 3957 (QB)
Employers’ Liability – Pure Economic Loss

High Court, Queen’s Bench Division: Jay J

 26 November 2014

The claimants sought damages for breach of statutory duty, negligence and breach of contract arising from their employment by the defendant. They alleged wrongful exposure to complex halogenated platinum salts produced by the refining process undertaken at the defendant’s factories, which resulted in them developing a sensitivity to platinum. The court determined that they had not suffered an actionable injury; that this was a claim for pure economic loss, which fell outside of any statutory or contractual duty owed to them by the defendant.

The claimants all worked as chemical process operators, with the exception of Mr White who worked as a maintenance engineer. They were all found to have become sensitised to chlorinated or halogenated platinum salts as a result of their exposure to these chemicals, and were taken off any work involving potential contact with platinum.

 Four of the claimants had ceased working for the company and claimed damages for loss or earnings or loss of earning capacity. The two others remained working at the company claimed that their earnings had been reduced by the restrictions placed on their employment.

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The court decided that in order to determine whether an actionable injury had arisen, for the purposes of a claim in tort, the correct approach was to analyse the sensitisation in terms of the physical (or physiological) harm it may be causing, and not any financial loss which may be consequent upon that harm. The court determined that the sensitisation did not amount to harm.

It was concluded that the purpose of any tortious obligation owed to the claimants was to safeguard them from the risk of personal injury, not from financial harm and similarly any contractual obligation was meant to offer the same protection from personal injury and not from economic or financial loss suffered without personal injury.

This case is a useful reminder that where there has been exposure to a potentially harmful substance, there needs to exist 'a disease process which is real and present' in order for the court to determine that an actionable injury has arisen. If not, it may be determined that no ‘harm’ was suffered and any claim for damages will likely fail.

Adam Dyl and Hannah Swarbrick, Anthony Gold