Claimant fails in stress claim; Court finds it was not reasonably foreseeable that he would suffer injury to his health

Mr Paterson had been employed by the Authority since 1979. Since 1985 he had been the estate manager of the Authority’s headquarters. In September 2004 he suffered a nervous breakdown and did not return to work. He alleged that he developed his condition as a result of having to work long hours to perform his duties and in particular as a result of having to be on call out of hours. He also complained that the Authority should have provided him with accommodation away from the site for use on the occasions when he was not on call.  

Held: It was not reasonably foreseeable that Mr Paterson would suffer injury to his health as a result of stress to which he was subjected at work. Mr Paterson never submitted a self-certification form mentioning the word stress and in a conversation between his wife and his manager, on which Mr Paterson relied, she did not tell his manager that Mr Paterson was suffering symptoms as a result of stress. The only indication the Authority had that he was at risk of suffering from stress at work was in a report prepared in 1991 which was too remote in point of time. The Authority should not be expected to have foreseen a risk from the number of hours he was working. In any event the operative cause of his breakdown was his perception of how he had been treated by the Authority in respect of his wish to be provided with accommodation away from the site. The Authority had no duty to provide alternative accommodation.  

Comment: This is another example of the Courts applying the guidelines set out by the Court of Appeal in Hatton v Sutherland [2002] in relation to claims for stress at work.  

In the last edition of Liability Brief we reported on the decision in Dickins v O2 [2008] where the Court of Appeal found in favour of the Claimant on the basis that the Defendant could have reasonably foreseen the problem. In that case the Defendant was aware that the Claimant was undergoing counselling and she had made her concerns clear, and the facts in Paterson can clearly be distinguished.  

The decision in Paterson is positive for Defendants and insurers as it highlights that, for a Claimant to succeed in a stress claim, the injury to health must be reasonably foreseeable. Given the lack of evidence of foreseeability it is perhaps surprising that the claim was pursued to trial.