Worker given no dust mask gets £13,000 for pneumonia

My client had been working for his employer as an engineer for a few weeks, when he was asked to attend a site to inspect and repair some commercial air conditioning units.  Despite raising concern and requesting to be provided with dust masks, the company failed to provide him with any such protective equipment.

Within days of attending to this job, my client began feeling unwell and, after 2 weeks off work, he was rushed to hospital with respiratory difficulties and chest pain and was diagnosed with pneumonia caused by Legionella infection.  He was admitted and treated for 3 weeks before being discharged. He was then severely restricted for the following 6 weeks before returning to work on light duties.

Upon presenting my client’s claim, the company’s insurer initially denied any wrongdoing and stated that the employee was responsible for the provision of his own dust masks.  We maintained that this was clearly in breach of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 as the legal duty is on the employer to provide the equipment.

The insurer later conceded that the company had breached its legal duty of care but then denied causation, i.e. that the failure to provide a dust mask had caused the pneumonia that my client suffered from.

Therefore, we then obtained an opinion from a respiratory physician and his report confirmed that, based on the nature of my client’s work, the hospital records and the timing of the symptoms suffered, it was most likely that my client had contracted pneumonia caused by Legionella infection due to bacteria in the water droplets from the air conditioning units, which are a well known source of such infections.

The defendant produced a very brief report from their own expert seeking to challenge this opinion on the basis that one of the blood tests returned negative for that type of pneumonia. However, that one test could not be relied upon without a subsequent ‘pairing’ test to verify it. Furthermore, it is well known that such test results can be negative even if there is Legionella infection present as it all depends on the timing of the tests and what stage the patient’s condition is at at those points in time.  Taking ALL of the medical evidence into account and my client’s response to treatment, our expert remained adamant that it was most likely that my client had contracted pneumonia due to being exposed to a well known source of Legionella infection without the protection of a dust mask.

The defendant’s insurer refused to accept our evidence and so court proceedings had to be commenced.  The defendant’s insurer then made an offer to settle my client’s claim for £10,000, which was increased to £13,000 after negotiations and this covered compensation for my client’s pain and suffering as well as other damages including his loss of earnings.

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