House of Lords takes RSI case in hand

A landmark legal action in which a Macclesfield secretary is claiming damages for repetitive strain injury (RSI) is to be probed by the Law Lords.

So far two judges have ruled for and two against the claim of 47-year-old Ann Margaret Pickford of Macclesfield who is seeking £175,000 damages.

In the High Court in November 1994 Pickford's claim that she was entitled to compensation for RSI, which she said was brought on by secretarial work she did for chemical giant ICI, was dismissed.

But last July the Court of Appeal, by a two-to-one majority, overturned that decision and ruled that Pickford's condition was brought on by work, was not "psychogenic" (in the mind) and that she was entitled to damages.

Lords Justice Stuart-Smith and Waite ruled that the High Court finding that Pickford's complaint was psychogenic was contrary to the weight of medical evidence and that the case should go back to the High Court for a judge to assess the level of damages to which she was entitled.

Now the House of Lords has given leave for ICI to appeal against that decision.

In the Court of Appeal, it had been argued on behalf of the company that employers were left in a quandary when dealing with claims in respect of RSI because there were two conflicting schools of thought about the problem. But, in the Appeal Court ruling, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said that employers need not be faced with problems. He said all they needed to do was to give their staff sensible instructions, advice and warning. He said that ICI had done so in respect of typists in its accounts department but had not given similar advice to Pickford.

The outcome of the case will be closely monitored by employers in many sectors.