Stress Claims : A Rolling Snowball Or All In The Mind?

Author:Mr Paul Hughes
Profession:Crutes Solicitors
 
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The news headlines read:

"A snapshot of the state of members in Warwickshire by the National Association of Head Teachers found that 40% of respondents had visited the doctor with stress-related problems in the past year, with 30% taking medication

"A maths teacher who retired early owing to stress-related ill health was yesterday awarded more than £100,000 by the courts"

Those without an involvement in insuring schools may say "so what", but the incidence of stress claims is increasing across the board. After the Walker decision, some thought the floodgates would open but few claims were litigated. Over the last 2 years, however, there has been a marked increase in claims. Jim Prew of Norwich Union says his specialised unit has dealt with 460 stress claims since Walker decision, and claims are increasing.

The reasons for increased claims lie largely in increased public awareness of this type of claim, fuelled by CFA's. Publicity for settlements is enormous.

But Is It All Just In The Mind ?

Whilst the number of stress claims is rising, they are still claims which are far more difficult for claimants to succeed in than most E.L. claims. Proving foreseeability of injury (rather than just upset emotions) is usually a major hurdle for claimants.

Insurers handling stress claims generally take a firm and challenging line, a tactic justified by high success rates. Derek Barnes of Zurich Municipal, one of the major insurers in the local authority sector, reports a high degree of success in repudiating cases. Nikki Barrett of St. Paul, also very active in that sector, reports the same high degree of success. Jim Prew of Norwich Union reports a 94% success rate across the board, including discontinued actions.

One example is a case heard in Newcastle in January. Mr. Laidler was a psychology lecturer at a college of further education. He claimed to be a victim of a concerted campaign because he refused to sign new contractual terms. He suffered a nervous breakdown after his office was demolished during refurbishment while some of his materials were inside. The court found he had ample warning of demolition and chose not to move his belongings during the previous. It was also found that a psychiatric injury could not reasonably have been foreseen.

One aspect of Laidler's claim was that he alleged that after he fell off work, his grievances were dealt with in a way either calculated to further injure him, or negligently in the knowledge that his...

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