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Grief, distress, anxiety, sleeplessness, sorrow and the like often follow on traumatic events, but in order to win compensation it is necessary to go further and prove the existence of a recognised psychiatric disorder. In one very unusual case, a man who was exposed to noxious fumes at work has surmounted that high hurdle and won the right to very substantial damages.
The man was working in a cement factory kiln when he breathed in the fumes. He immediately suffered chest pain and breathing difficulties but his psychiatric reaction to the incident was far more complex and long-lasting. Formerly a keen sportsman and energetic businessman, his wife said that he had been reduced to a child-like shadow of his former self. He suffered dizzy spells, blackouts and hallucinations and was said to be incapable of functioning independently.
The man sued the occupiers of the cement factory, the firm which had engaged him there and contractors who were working there at the time. They reached agreement between themselves as to the apportionment of liability and breach of duty was admitted in full. Although his condition is not the result of any organic brain damage, there was no dispute that his symptoms, from which he is making a slow recovery, are genuine.
In upholding his right to damages, the High Court found that he is suffering from a recognised and chronic psychiatric condition, which has been identified by experts as hysterical pseudodementia, and that his symptoms were caused or contributed to by his negligent exposure.
The amount of the man's compensation has yet to be assessed but is likely to run into at least six figures.