Trethowans were instructed by Mrs Bowers to pursue a personal injury claim on her behalf after she developed a repetitive strain injury to her wrist at work.
Mrs Bowers was employed by a company who produced electronic circuits and components. She worked on the assembly line and carried out manual tasks such as cutting / snipping circuit boards, soldering, potting (mixing, weighing etc), wire cutting, screwing parts together and other aspects of general mechanical assembly. All of these tasks were carried out by hand. She had to use both hands for intricate work which required fine motor skills. She also had to apply pressure from her hands/wrists (particularly in relation to cutting and soldering) as it was necessary to hold materials firmly in place at all times.
The work was physically demanding and extremely repetitive. She would often spend days at a time performing the same task.
Mrs Bowers became aware of problems with her wrist. She was signed off work and diagnosed as suffering with tendonitis. She was informed that this was caused by the repetitive nature of her machine assembly work. Upon her return to work she made repeated requests to her employer for steps to be taken to reduce the risk of her condition being aggravated, including the provision new equipment (e.g. new cutters to use at work) and being removed from certain tasks that aggravated her condition. No changes were implemented by her employers. She continued to work, however her condition deteriorated further, eventually rendering her unable to continue.
She was reviewed by her employer's occupational health advisor. He recommended that new cutters be purchased for her (but this was never done). After a second assessment he diagnosed that she had developed complex regional pain syndrome and he noted that her grip strength was significantly reduced. He concluded that she would not be able to return to her previous employment on account of her condition and persisting symptoms.
Liability and causation
This matter was initially presented to the Defendant (Mrs Bowers' employers) who instructed solicitors to defend the case. Issues of both liability and causation were firmly disputed by the Defendant from the outset.
The case raised difficult and complex issues in terms of both liability and causation. It was necessary to try and prove on Mrs Bowers' behalf that:
1. There was a foreseeable risk of injury occurring due to the repetitive and physical nature of the work that she carried out; and that her employers were aware of this risk and should have taken reasonable steps to minimise the risk as far as possible.
2. Mrs Bowers' condition / injuries had been caused directly by the repetitive and physical nature of the duties she was ordered to perform at work.
On the first point (liability), it was necessary to obtain expert evidence from an ergonomic expert, to comment on issues of manual handling and whether the tasks she was performing at work did expose Mrs Bowers to a foreseeable risk of injury. The Defendant initially objected to the involvement of such an expert and declined to agree joint instructions. We proceeded to obtain the expert evidence regardless, and in due course the Defendant eventually decided to obtain a separate report from their own ergonomic expert.
The conduct of the Defendant at various stages created problems in dealing with the case. Significant difficulties were encountered when a joint site visit was arranged to enable both parties and the ergonomic experts to view the assembly area and assess the tasks being carried out. Mrs Bowers was refused access to the site visit by the Defendant. This caused difficulties our ergonomic expert as he was denied Mrs Bowers' input in terms of evaluating the information obtained during the site visit. There were also issues regarding disclosure of documents held by the Defendant, which were not disclosed to us, which again hindered the expert's progress.
The second issue (causation) necessitated the instruction of a medical expert. A Consultant Rheumatologist was instructed and a detailed medical report was obtained. Subsequently, the expert advised further both in meetings and by way of responding to written questions that were put to him. The Defendant again chose to instruct their own medical expert, although his report / evidence was never disclosed to us.
Due to the Defendant's continued denial of liability, it was necessary to start court proceedings. The Defendant responded to the service of court proceedings by repeating their previous denials of liability and causation. They later amended their Defence. This necessitated further work and we submitted a formal Reply to the Defence on Mrs Bowers' behalf.
The Court allocated to the multi-track. The Claimant and Defendant were each given permission to rely on their own Ergonomic and Rheumatology experts. The expert evidence is discussed further below.
Case Management Conference
A Case Management Conference was held in Court on 12 March 2013. The Defendant had been reluctant to disclose particular documentation which had been repeatedly requested by us. In Court The District Judge made an order for the information requested to be provided to us. In addition, Mrs Bowers was given permission to obtain a further ergonomic report, in order to comment upon the additional documents and information that the Defendant had so far failed to show to us. Both parties were also given permission by the Court to put questions to the experts. A joint ergonomic statement was then to be produced by the experts.
In relation to the medical evidence, The Defendant was ordered to disclose their medical report, and Mrs Bowers was given permission to obtain an updated rheumatology report from our own medical expert. A joint rheumatology statement was to be produced in due course.
Finally, we also succeeded in persuading the court to allow Mrs Bowers to obtain a separate medical report from a Consultant Psychologist, to address the psychological injuries that she had suffered as a result of the development of the condition in her wrist.
Given the Defendant’s denial of liability, it was necessary to obtain extremely detailed witness statements from Mrs Bowers herself and from several of her former work colleagues who had also experienced similar problems during their employment with the Defendant.
Offers / Settlement
Despite their continued denial of liability, the Defendant made an initial offer of settlement, once the court proceedings had been started. Their initial offer was to pay £5,000 to Mrs Bowers in respect of her damages (this figure included both compensation for her injuries, pain and suffering, together with re-imbursement of her associated financial losses). This offer was rejected on Mrs Bowers' behalf as it was clearly insufficient.
The case continued and the court fixed dates for a further Case Management Conference and also listed the matter for a 4 day Trial.
The Defendant did not wish to go to Trial and eventually increased their offer to £25,000 in respect of total damages. In addition, they offered to pay Mrs Bowers' legal costs in full. This offer was eventually accepted by Mrs Bowers, upon our advice.
At the end of the case, Mrs Bowers said “I’m so grateful for all the time and effort Trethowans invested in my case. They offered me constant help support and understanding when I was at my lowest ebb. Every member of the team at Trethowans have shown me compassion every step of the way, helping me over every hurdle – with the result being a successful case and my emotional well-being restored”.