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Employees win ‘landmark’ Supreme Court case over symptomless condition

The UK’s highest court ruled in favour of three men who developed sensitivity to platinum salts while working for Johnson Matthey.

Employees of a chemical company who developed a sensitivity to platinum salts have won a “landmark” challenge at the UK’s highest court in their battle for damages – even though their condition has no symptoms.

Justices at the Supreme Court in London unanimously ruled on Wednesday in favour of three workers in their action against Johnson Matthey.

Their decision overturned previous findings of the High Court and Court of Appeal that the men could not claim compensation against their employer as the sensitivity to platinum salts was not “actionable”.

Waynsworth Dryden,  61, from Bedfordshire, Tony Cipullo, 43, from Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, and Simon York, 48, of Ware, Hertfordshire, all say they have suffered financial loss.

Although platinum salt sensitivity is symptomless, further exposure is likely to cause someone with sensitisation to develop an allergic reaction involving physical symptoms such as running eyes or nose, skin irritation and bronchial problems.

Lawyers said two of the men lost their jobs on medical grounds, while Mr York took up a different role with the company,  but for less pay.

After the ruling, Harminder Bains, of law firm Leigh Day, said the decision would have a wide-ranging impact on the law in regards to personal injury.

She said: “This judgment is a landmark judgment in the definition of personal injury for those workers who have been negligently exposed in the workplace and who have suffered an injury which may be symptomless but which has a huge impact on their work and subsequently their life.”

The industrial disease expert said: “My clients are delighted with this decision from the Supreme Court and will now return to the High Court to proceed to a trial for how much their lost wages and other benefits are worth following the negligent exposure to platinum salts.

“They have lost their highly skilled jobs in these chemical plants. In addition, there are other men who, sadly, have been similarly exposed, and we will be looking to widen the claims out to all those affected.”

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Lady Black who allowed an appeal by chemical company employees (Supreme Court/PA)

Lady Black, giving the Supreme Court’s ruling, said the employees worked in factories making catalytic converters, where platinum salts were used in the production process.

She said: “In breach of its duty under the health and safety regulations and at common law, the company failed to ensure that the factories were properly cleaned and, as a result, the claimants were exposed to platinum salts, which led them to develop platinum salt sensitisation.”

After their sensitisation was detected through routine skin test screening “they were no longer permitted by the company to work in areas where they might be further exposed to platinum salts and develop allergic symptoms”.

The judge added: “One has taken up a different role with the company but, he claims, at a significantly reduced rate of pay. The other two had their employment terminated.”

She said the “central” question in the appeal was whether the three men “have suffered actionable personal injury on which they can found claims for negligence/breach of statutory duty”.

The judge said she concluded that the claimants “do have a cause of action in negligence/statutory duty against the company”.

Lady Black said: “What has happened to the claimants is that their bodily capacity for work has been impaired and they are therefore significantly worse off.

“They have, in my view, suffered actionable bodily damage, or personal injury, which, given its impact on their lives, is certainly more than negligible.”

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