Paul Llewellyn takes issue with poor reporting of cases

Paul Llewellyn

Newspapers frequently do a disservice to the public in their reporting of the law.

One field where this happens is that of personal injury litigation and in particular the so-called "RSI" (Repetitive Strain Injury) cases involving Judge Prosser QC. The judge may well have been justifiably criticised in awarding a modest sum of money to a rape victim for a holiday, but that apparent lapse of judgment has been used to add justification to his repeated castigation for accepting that the term RSI "is in reality meaningless" and "has no place in the medical books" (see Mughal v Reuters Limited, 28 October 1993).

Whenever a further award of damages or a settlement of an RSI case is reported, the fact of the award is contrasted with Prosser's finding that the condition does not exist.

Judge Prosser was simply reflecting in his judgment the respected and orthodox view that RSI developed as a convenient acronym to describe a range of conditions allegedly connected with repetitive limb movements.

He accepted that there are conditions such as tenosynovitis peritendonits crepitans or tennis elbow, each of which has attributable causes and some of which can be attributed to work. What he could not accept was that RSI was a scientific term and had a role to play in diagnosis and causation.

As Mr Nigel Barton, consultant hand surgeon, has commented: "If a condition is called RSI this implies causation and anyone can call anything RSI. The correct and logical approach is to define the disorder and then consider causation."

There are numerous conditions which can develop in the upper limbs and to perpetrate the use of a collective misnomer raises false expectations in sufferers and impedes the solution of such conditions and their attendant litigation.

The prospect of the press recognising its folly seems remote.

Paul Llewellyn is litigation partner with Shoosmiths & Harrison, Nottingham.