TCE exposure leads to compensation for RAF Corporal

In a groundbreaking decision, the Court of Appeal awarded a Claimant compensation following over-exposure to Trichloroethylene while he served as a Corporal in the RAF.

The allegation

Where TCE-based solvents are used within the workplace, the employer must provide protective equipment and a well ventilated environment in order to minimise the risk of contracting illness.

It was alleged that the Claimant's exposure to the potentially deadly solvent was assessed to have been between ten and twenty times a safe level of exposure.

The Defendant in this case was the Ministry of Defence. The MoD owe a duty of care to all servicemen as an employer owes a duty to its employees. The Claimant alleged that he was exposed to TCE through the use of solvents whilst on active service during the Gulf War, where the Claimant was required to paint motor vehicles and aircraft. The Claimant worked at a number of bases during his service, including RAF Abingdon, RAF Bruggen and RAF Leeming.

The Defendant fought the claim, alleging that they had provided adequate equipment and ventilation.

After a lengthy legal battle, the Defendant accepted that they were in breach of their duty to the Claimant and accepted that the protective equipment provided was inadequate, as was ventilation the environment in which the Claimant was required to work with solvents.

Details of the injury

A colleague who worked with the Claimant developed Parkinsonism at an usually young age. The Claimant was also diagnosed with a similar condition, Multiple System Atrophy-P (MSAP). The condition is incurable and related to Parkinson's Disease.

The Claimant believed his condition was related to his working conditions and sought further medical and legal opinion.

The decision

The Claimant suffered significant neurological damage as a result of the exposure. Establishing the link between the TCE exposure and the Claimant's condition was a significant aspect of the case as the link had not been established in an English Court prior to the decision.

The case was the very first to establish a causal link between exposure to an organic solvent of this kind neurological damage. On the basis of expert medical evidence, it was held that there was a "probable connection" between the two.

The use of TCE in consumer products has now been banned within the European Union. The chemicals that the Claimant operated with were said to have caused psychological as well as physical/neurological injuries, and were argued to be capable of inducing death in cases of substantial exposure.

The Claimant received unspecified damages by way of compensation.