Freshfields faces 'loss of career' writ

A Freshfields trainee solicitor is suing her firm claiming £633,436 for loss of her career as a lawyer, personal injury and psychological distress arising out of a business trip to Ghana.

The trainee, Kate Cawthorn, details in the writ how she contracted shigella dysentery after eating fresh barracuda while working on the flotation of the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation in Ghana in January 1994.

She claims Freshfields failed to ensure she had the proper inoculations and failed to advise her on diet and the risks to western travellers of eating certain foods in Ghana where shigella dysentery is endemic.

Cawthorn also alleges that when Freshfields became aware she had constant diarrhoea and painful stomach pains, it failed to send her home or provide medical attention and allowed her to continue working “practically 24 hours each day”.

After four weeks Cawthorn asked for and received permission to return home. She did so, she claims, after she discovered that her manager who accompanied her on the trip, John Gosling, had complained of diarrhoea and was told he could return home leaving Cawthorn to “tie up the loose ends”.

Back in the UK she contracted irritable bowel syndrome as a result of the dysentery and because of constant time off work was unable to complete her traineeship.

In October 1996, after telling Freshfields she could see no future at the firm, Cawthorn claims that she was given 10 days to sign a termination agreement. She did not sign.

Cawthorn told The Lawyer: “I suppose I was very naive. I did not shout and scream and bang my fist when I got ill because I was only four months at the firm and I wanted to impress. I felt it would have been a black mark if I had asked to go home.”

Ian Terry, Freshfields managing partner, said: “We had no idea how sick she was at the time. She was very much a trouper and did not make much of it. Her condition worsened considerably when she came back.” He added that the firm was waiting for medical reports and would then be happy to sit down with Cawthorn and resolve the issue.

London firm Howard & Howard is acting for Cawthorn.