Nigel Askew Solicitors were contacted by a client in 2015 in relation to a claim for a work related hand injury as a result of poor working conditions.
The claim process took a total of 3 years from start to finish, in what was an extremely complex matter. The settlement negotiations were long and protracted as the defendant denied liability throughout.
Exposure and causation
The client developed a work related injury to his left hand and arm during the course of his employment with a chemical research firm, between 2008 and 2015.
His work was mainly desk based when he was at the office but also involved scientific research mostly at external sites in Europe and the US.
In late 2011 he was provided with a specialist workstation to carry out his work involving 3D imaging.
The new set-up meant that he had to keep turning around to a desk on the wall behind him where the computer system was located to check the computer. Each time he did so he would push off with his left arm to move to the desk behind him.
The need to keep turning around added to general backache and fatigue.
The new desk was more cramped and there was less space under it for him to move around or from side to side, which caused him increasingly to lean his elbows on the desk for longer periods. He could spend several hours at a time leaning on his elbows, which he believed was due to the fact he is 6ft 2” tall and that the desk was too low.
He also assumed that numbness in his left hand was due to the fact that his left hand was just resting on the table all the time, while his right hand was constantly moving the mouse and therefore moving. He would also get backache from his chair which was uncomfortable so this led to him leaning forward and resting on his arms more.
He repeatedly asked various team administrators for a different chair and asked several times to trial an ergonomic chair they usually bought for people with back problems, but the chair was not changed.
Over the course of the following year he suffered with periodic bouts of numbness and pins and needles in his left hand and aches and pains in his shoulders and both arms when he was at his desk. His symptoms would alleviate if he got up and stretched and moved around his desk so did not think they were anything too serious.
By mid 2013, while on a work trip he noticed his left little finger and ring finger feeling odd and started to experience tingling and some numbness and began to think something was wrong. His symptoms worsened over the next few days and the numbness and pins and needles appeared to be permanent. By the following week he lost grip strength and dexterity in his left hand.
He saw his GP in October 2013 and was immediately referred to Hospital for investigations and nerve conduction tests. He was diagnosed with ulnar nerve compression and had surgery to decompress the nerve.
He discussed the possible cause of his symptoms with the surgeon and after ruling out degenerative nerve problems or a bulging disc in his neck, he suggested he look at his work desk as this was the most common source of such problems. Although he had found his desk uncomfortable from the outset, it was only when he consulted with his physiotherapist that he realised his hand injury had been caused by his work desk.
When he returned to work in November 2013 after the surgery he noticed that when sitting at his desk in his normal position he was placing the surgical wound onto the edge of the desk. This confirmed to him that the desk was the underlying cause of his work related hand injury.
He left his employment in 2015.
Particulars of Injury
Following surgery some of the muscle returned and his hand improved. However, his left hand was still quite wasted and was smaller and weaker than his right hand. He was also often told that it appeared to be paler in comparison to his right hand. He found it hard to grip things and his forearm and wrist were still noticeably weaker. For example, picking up a heavy pan with his left hand was difficult and his wrist tended to droop. He also found it hard picking up anything wet or heavy. On the whole, he could do most things but he had to learn how to do things a little differently with his left hand, for example, his grip when opening a screw top bottle.
A detailed letter of claim was sent to the Defendant. In the letter it was alleged that the Defendant had exposed the client to an unsafe system of work by not undertaking an adequate workstation assessment in breach of health and safety regulations. In December 2015 the Defendant’s insurers confirmed that liability was denied and provided disclosure in support or their denial. An orthopaedic surgeon was instructed to prepare a report, who had established expertise in upper limb injuries. The report was obtained and confirmed that the nerve damage to the elbow and hand was as a direct result of the inadequacies of the work station.
In light of the supportive medical report, counsel was instructed to prepare the necessary court papers. The claim was served on the Defendant in December 2016. Liability was firmly denied in the Defence. It was claimed that the client had completed a self-desk assessment which did not highlight any major issues with the desk. Around the time witness evidence was due to be exchanged, the Defendant unexpectedly indicated its willingness to enter into settlement negotiations. A Part 36 offer of £10,000 was subsequently made by the defendant which was rejected. The client’s instructions were taken in relation to the potential impact of his hand injuries on his ability to undertake scientific work involving fine motor movements of his hands and to argue that he was potentially at a disadvantage on the open labour market. After further negotiations, the parties agreed a settlement in the sum of £30,000.
The claim was complex not only because of the slightly unusual injury but also due to causation issues as the symptoms became severe at a time when the client was away from the office. However, by applying expertise gained in dealing with similar cases and instructing an appropriate expert who was familiar with the development of upper limb injuries these potential problems were overcome. Moreover, by undertaking a detailed review of the Defendant’s disclosure it became apparent that they had not carried out the necessary workstation assessments or acted in a timely fashion in altering the workstation once they were aware of the client’s symptoms.
A Compensation award of £30,000 was made to the client for his work related hand injury.
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