Case study: a successful stress at work or depression claim

Case study: a successful stress at work or depression claim

While modern life comes with many bonuses, in recent years it has also become synonymous with an increase in stress as humans thrive on performance, competition and perfection in the workplace.

Research shows that 59% of UK adults suffer stress at work. Having to work long hours is the most common cause of work-related stress (21%), and higher earners are more likely to experience stress at work (72%). As a result of this, 65% experience sleep loss from stress, and 56% have searched for a new job due to stress at work. Sometimes the effects of work stress go further and for around 602,000 of us, causes recognised psychological illness most typically clinical depression, of which the effects can sometimes be long-lasting. This is when you should consider whether you may claim for compensation.

While these statistics are alarming, there is help with many charities offering advice as well as a legal framework in place to provide support when employers are negligent. Getting compensation for work stress related illness can be challenging. That’s why you need lawyers with a proven track record in helping stress at work victims get compensation. At Brachers we have successfully handled several high-profile work stress related illness claims, delivering positive outcomes for the claimant. The case study below is an extreme example; most work stress-related illness claims are settled sooner than this. However, the case illustrates that Brachers has what it takes to successfully go the distance to get justice for work stress illness victims.

Case study: Brachers recovers £300,000 in compensation for a victim of negligent work stress depression

The case

Brachers demonstrated its expertise in serious work accident and industrial disease claims by recovering £300,000 in compensation for a victim of negligent work stress-related depression. After a 10-year battle Brachers secured compensation and justice for Tom, a former Parks Manager of a London Borough after he developed severe depression leading to a nervous breakdown.

The build-up of stress

Tom alleged his psychiatric injury was caused by the negligence of his employers by giving him an unrealistic workload and level of responsibilities over several years, increasing the burdens on him at work while removing the resources and assistance needed to do his job effectively. He was working excessive hours including on-call time at weekends and evenings and was unable to take his full holiday allocation.

His employers were handed a letter from his GP warning of the toll work pressures were having on his health. He was referred to occupational health and an action plan drawn up to improve the situation. Unfortunately, that action plan was never implemented by his manager, who was distracted by her own grievance against her manager. Tom’s condition deteriorated, leading to his breakdown six months later and his permanent ill-health retirement, over 10 years early.

Sadly, Tom’s wife left him the autumn after his breakdown. Tom considered the marriage only broke down because of the toll his depression had taken on their relationship. The defendant effectively contested everything; negligence, foreseeability, causation of the illness and put in issue all aspects of the claim’s value. They argued that Tom was exaggerating his illness and was fit for work about two years after his nervous breakdown and blamed Tom himself for his breakdown, alleging contributory negligence in choosing to work excessive hours and argued his main problems arose from his ‘unrelated’ marriage breakdown. The two psychiatric medical experts took very different opposing positions.

A lengthy case

The time taken to resolve the case was increased by the fact that Brachers was acting for a psychologically very vulnerable client, where the subject matter of the litigation was the cause of his serious psychiatric illness. Sadly dealing with the litigation temporarily worsened Tom’s condition, although Brachers alongside barrister, Patrick Green, did its best to sympathetically support him through the claim process.

During the ten years it took to bring Tom’s claim to its successful conclusion there were various delays over which Brachers had no control; some by the courts but also delays and breaches by the defendant’s insurers and their solicitors. They did make one offer of £100,000 to settle six years earlier, which Brachers considered inadequate and Tom therefore rejected. Various compromise offers were put to the other side, starting with an offer of £150,000. However, they were not prepared to move on their original offer.

Following a two-week trial and hearing the judge found that negligent work stress was the cause of the claimant’s original nervous breakdown/severe depression and the loss of his job. However, he also found Tom would have had to stop work anyway a year later due to the psychological impact of his marriage breakdown.

Brachers argued that the marriage probably would not have broken down but for negligent work stress but the judge found against Tom on that point. Brachers then argued that even on that finding Tom should be entitled to some further loss of earnings and loss of pension for breach of implied term of mutual trust and confidence in failing to re-grade his position. The claimant’s replacement was given the job at a higher local authority pay grade and if the claimant’s job had been regraded before his employment ended, he would have got a higher pension. The judge found against Tom on that issue also.

Several months after the original hearing the judge gave judgment limited to £35,615, less than the defendant’s previous offer. Brachers successfully appealed the Judge’s decision to cut off the loss of earnings claim after only one year. The Court of Appeal ordered there to be a retrial before the same judge on the loss of earnings claim and his finding that the loss of earnings claim was cut off after one year due to the marriage breakdown, with the Court of Appeal indicating that it was for the defendants to prove that and that they did not share the judge’s analysis.

Re-trial

The retrial took place the following autumn, the judge giving his judgment in two parts. One potentially complicating matter the judge had to consider was what impact if any would Tom’s recent bowel cancer have had on the loss of earnings claim. After the re-trial the judge found that the marriage would not have caused the claimant to stop working but for the original negligent work stress. He accepted the claimant was not fit for work subsequently. However, he decided that Tom probably would have chosen to retire anyway after five years. The cut-off date for the loss of earnings claim was therefore the claimant’s 60th birthday. He made no express ruling on whether Tom’s position should have been regraded but implied it would not have been.

Tom was awarded the revised principal sum of £175,343.11 before interest and enhancements. However, because the claimant had matched and beaten his previous offers, he was awarded a 10% enhancement to his damages and an enhanced rate of interest of 8% per year from the date of his original offer. Tom’s revised award was just short of £300,000.

For more information on how Brachers could help you, contact our Personal Injury team.