When a claim is made for a personal injury, you would normally think it necessary to prove that the injury was caused by the action of the person or business claimed against for the claim to succeed.
However, a recent case has opened the door for claims in which a causal link has not been demonstrated. It concerned a painter who was exposed to high levels of the industrial solvents trichloroethylene and dichloromethane when working in the Royal Air Force (RAF). He succeeded in his claim for damages after he developed neurological symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease.
The RAF admitted that he had been exposed to the substances, but denied that this was the cause of the man’s symptoms on the ground that there was insufficient scientific evidence linking such exposure to neurological damage.
The man presented evidence that the level of exposure to the solvents was much higher than the permitted level and substantiation from an expert of the likelihood that his symptoms were caused by the exposure. He claimed that, on the balance of probabilities, his ill health had resulted from the exposure and, despite the lack of a demonstrated causal link, the court upheld his claim.
The Ministry of Defence appealed unsuccessfully against the decision.
The case shows that where an employer fails to comply with standards for exposure to noxious substances, a claim for damages may be upheld by the courts even if a link between the exposure and the alleged damage has not been scientifically proven.