Litigation Recent Decisions 9/6/98

Employer had taken steps to reduce passive smoking risk

Sylvia Maria Sparrow v St Andrews Homes Ltd (1998)

QBD (Holland J) 21/5/98

The plaintiff was a nurse aged 60 who had been employed by the defendants. She alleged that in the course of her work, through passive exposure to cigarette smoke, an asthmatic condition was caused or materially contributed to by reason of the defendants negligence. The plaintiff had begun part-time work in a nursing home in 1986. She was a non-smoker. No one smoked in her household. By contrast there were regular smokers in the home, both staff and patients. The plaintiff claimed that from about 1989 when she went into the lounges designated for smoking she would react adversely to the smoke. In 1990 her GP advised that she should work away from smoke. A diagnosis of mild asthma was made. A letter was sent by the GP to the defendants indicating these findings. Later that year the plaintiff asked the defendants' matron to ban smoking. The request was refused. After being off sick in 1991 with asthma the plaintiff asked for a transfer to an area of work which would be smoke free. A transfer was made but there was still a requirement for her to work occasionally in smoky areas. In 1992 after working in a smoking area the plaintiff was unwell. She was signed off sick by her GP and did not return to work. Medical evidence was called. It was accepted that the plaintiff had late onset asthma and that asthma attacks could be triggered by an irritant including cigarette smoke. The defendants argued, however, that they were unaware of the plaintiff's asthma before 1990. There was no more than general awareness in 1990 of the risks of passive smoking. Thereafter, the defendants contended, they had done all they could to provide a safe system of work.