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Topsom v Carillion PLC [2016]


At the end of a three day trial  on the 6th April 2016 at Southend County Court HHJ Moloney QC held the Defendant entirely to blame for the Claimant’s serious depressive disorder and severe OCD. His condition had been sufficiently serious that the Defendant who was his employer had dismissed the Claimant from his employed. At the date of trial the Claimant was 47 and both experts agreed that his chances of returning to work in the near future were limited. Although the Defendant accepted the severity of his condition they disputed causation based on entries in his occupational health records and in his employment records describing a meltdown that lead to him going off work and never returning when he was told about the extent of his prior exposure to asbestos. The Claimant accepted that was an immediate cause of his breakdown however his capacity to cope with further stressors had been fatally undermined by the accident which was the trigger for this claim.  The Claimant instructed Dr Webb as his psychiatrist and the Defendant instructed Dr Latcham. This was an unusual case in that the experts were so far apart.  Quantum was agreed at the trial subject to the Defendant obtaining instructions at £400,000; had the Defendant’s expert been accepted the claim has a value that was less than £20,000. A JSM had failed with the Defendant, represented throughout by James Murphy, offering £100,000. Under cross examination the Defendant’s expert came very close to conceding the claim before rallying and maintaining his position that it was the news of exposure to asbestos which had caused his condition. HHJ Maloney QC found for the Claimant on the basis that although the news of the extent of his asbestos exposure was the immediate trigger of his mental collapse his resilience had been fatally weakened by the earlier accident. He had no hesitation in preferring Dr Webb’s explanation of how his mental health had been impacted to that of Dr Latcham. Following on from the trial the Defendant took so long to confirm the informal agreement as to damages that the offer to agree was withdrawn by the Claimant and a new offer to agree them at £400,000 net of the significant CRU liability and an interim payment was made and has been accepted by the Defendant.

The case is a good example of the continuing need to fight some cases where the experts are far apart and the consequences of losing are very severe. Whilst the Claimant was understandably very worried about the risk that the Defendant’s expert would be believed and the consequences of that on his future life the only offer they were willing to make limited the claim to a value that was a fraction of its true worth.

David Rivers acted throughout on behalf of the Claimant instructed by Mick Laffey and Clair Wilson of Thompsons Solicitors LLP.

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