Dryden and Others v Johnson Matthey PLC
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The Supreme Court recently considered whether a symptomless condition could amount to actionable damage. The condition in question was platinum salt sensitisation (PSS), contracted by the claimants in the course of their employment. PSS is asymptomatic but carries a real risk of progression, especially where those affected continue to be exposed to platinum salts. The claimants were consequently prevented from working around platinum salts.
The Court revisited two leading cases: Cartledge v E Jopling & Sons Ltd  AC 758 and Rothwell v Chemical Insulating Co Ltd  AC 281.
The claimants sought to rely upon Cartledge, a case in which steelworkers had inhaled harmful silica particles. As a result, the workers suffered reduced lung capacity and were at an increased risk of complications should they contract a separate illness affecting their respiratory system.
On the issue of damage, Lord Pearce said in Cartledge: “It is for a judge or jury to decide whether a man has suffered any actionable harm and in borderline cases it is a question of degree.”
Rothwell, a case concerning pleural plaques developed as a result of asbestos exposure, was distinguished from both Cartledge and the current case. It was held that the disease processes at play in Rothwell were significantly different from those in the current case in that the pleural plaques were not likely to have a material impact upon the quality of life of those affected and would not worsen.
The Court allowed the appeal and held that PSS could amount to actionable damage, notwithstanding the fact that the condition might well remain asymptomatic throughout the claimants’ lives.
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