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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

Anthony Gold Solicitors , 08 JUN 2015

Easton v B&Q plc [2015] EWHC 449 (QB)

Easton v B&Q plc [2015] EWHC 449 (QB)
Negligence – Employer’s Duty To Take Care – Psychiatric Injury – Stress At Work - Forseeability – Risk Assessment

High Court, Queen's Bench Division

31 March 2015

William Davis J

Summary
A claim for psychiatric injury arising from stress at work was dismissed on the basis that the injury was not foreseeable to the employer.

Detail
The claimant was a B&Q store manager and brought a claim for psychiatric illness caused by work-related stress. He had been diagnosed with depression in May 2010. He unsuccessfully attempted to return to work in September 2010 and January 2012.  
The claimant’s case was that (1) his initial illness was caused by occupational stress and resulted from breach of duty by the defendant; (2) the defendant failed to manage the claimant’s return to work in September 2010 appropriately thus causing a relapse of his illness and (3) the defendant failed to undertake risk assessments in relation to employee stress.

The claim was dismissed and the court addressed each of the Claimant’s arguments: 


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(1) The claim for the initial illness was bound to fail at the first hurdle of foreseeability. The claimant had spent ten years of his managerial career in charge of large retail outlets and there was no history of psychiatric problems or anything which indicated he was particularly susceptible to psychiatric illness. A regional manager called by the defendant had never been aware of another store manager manager experiencing stress related to work and there was nothing in general about the role that would indicated such a risk.

(2) The court did not accept the claimant’s account of a crucial meeting and found that whilst the regional manager had failed to accord with the planned phased return to work that was not sufficient to amount to a breach of duty and the regional manager had acted reasonably and the claimant’s own account was that he was ready to return to work.

(3) The completion of a risk assessment was immaterial as it would have made no difference to the outcome as no risk of psychiatric injury would have been uncovered.

Comment

The court can take into account objective factors secondary to factors relating to the claimants themselves. In this case, the regional manager’s experience of no other employees in the same role experiencing stress at work was relevant to foreseeability.

The judge also commented that he was unimpressed by the submission that the evidence of witnesses called by the defendant should be given less regard simply because of their continued employment with the company - claimants will need to put this contention to defendants in cross examination as it will not be sufficient in and of itself to discredit a witness.

Joseph Carr & Louise Taylor, Anthony Gold
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