So what is a personal injury? The answer seems obvious but this was a question faced by the High Court in Liverpool in a recent group action of Saunderson & ors v Sonae Industria (UK) Ltd .
The question of what could be deemed an ‘actionable personal injury’ had previously been considered by the House of Lords in Rothwell v Chemical and Insulating Company Ltd . Their Lordships were unable to agree a single unified test.
Lord Hoffman considered that the test was the ‘abstract concept of being worse off, physically or economically, so that compensation is an appropriate remedy’. A physical change alone was not deemed by him to be sufficient.
For Lord Hope, the consideration was whether there was ‘real damage, as distinct from damage which is purely minimal’.
Lord Rodger considered the test to be whether there had been ‘material damage’.
In Saunderson a major fire at the defendant’s particle board manufacturing plant in Kirby, Merseyside in 2011 resulted in 40 of the 16,626 local residents, who had been exposed to the smoke, bringing the joint claim for a variety of symptoms. Within a couple of days of the fire each claimant complained of itchy eyes, nasal symptoms of blocked or runny noses, sore throats, severe coughing, breathlessness, wheeziness and some with skin symptoms.
Mr Justice Jay considered the comments in Rothwell and concluded that the symptoms described constituted ‘a transient, trifling, self-limiting, reversible reaction to an irritant’ which in his view was not sufficient for an “actionable injury”. He described the symptoms as an irritation rather than inflammation, the symptoms of which lasted no more than a week.
Mr Justice Jay dismissed the claims.
This case goes to show that some loss must arise from an injury before a claim can be brought.
Once again it proves that proper legal advice should always be sought by anyone wishing to bring a claim.