Unite Legal Services has successfully helped a factory worker who developed painful dermatitis after he was exposed to harmful materials at work receive compensation in spite of his employer’s insurers’ delay tactics.

Paul Eames, 47, from Ashby De La Zouch in Leicestershire, was exposed to expoxy resins during his work as an operative for Hepworth Building Products in Swandlicote, part of Wavin UK Holdings.

He first showed symptoms of dermatitis in May 2005 after his arm became swollen and painful.

When he returned to work he was moved off the job and in August 2008 filled out an occupational health form highlighting his skin condition.

But in April 2009 he was put back on a job where he was being exposed to resin. His arm again swelled up and he began to suffer from blisters and welts on both hands and arms, his face and eyes.

He was removed from working with resin but continued to work in the department where the material was used.

Thompsons Solicitors made claim for compensation

It wasn’t until he contacted his trade union, Unite the Union and Unite Legal Services instructed Thompsons Solicitors to investigate a claim for compensation, that he was finally put in a role where he wasn’t being exposed to harmful products.

It was argued that Wavin UK Holdings should have done more to ensure that Mr Eames was protected from the resin, particularly after he told occupational health about his skin condition.

Whilst he was provided with personal protective equipment, the firm should never have re-exposed him to the material after it became clear he suffered from dermatitis.

Despite a clear legal case it took another three years to settle the claim as Wavin’s insurer Chartis refused to co-operate with Thompsons.

Unite Legal Services offered to settle the case in April 2010 when costs for the case amounted to just £5,000 but over the coming months Chartis refused to share the cost of an engineer to inspect the health and safety of the site (at a cost of roughly £7,000 per engineer), issued witness statements sporadically and generally used costly time delaying tactics.

Costs for Unite Legal Services ramped up from the initial estimation of £11,000 at the start of the case to £37,500. The final costs were estimated to be in the region of £25,000 for the defendant.

Although the defendant never did admit liability, it finally settled the case for £5,000, close to Unite Legal Services’ original offer two and a half years earlier.

Insurance companies’ bad behaviour pushed costs up

Mr Eames said: “I’m grateful to Unite the Union for their support in this. It wasn’t until I approached the union that my skin condition was taken seriously. I’d never have been able to navigate the legal system on my own and I’ve been told that a high street solicitors would have been unlikely to take on my case, particularly for free, because of the behaviour of the insurers.”

Gerard Coyne, Unite the Union regional secretary, added: “This case shows how determined we are as a union to ensure our members receive legal representation. If Mr Eames had approached a high street law firm it is unlikely they would have taken his case on, or continued to see it through to the end in the face of rising costs. Our legal services knew there was a case to fight and with our backing Mr Eames was able to get a successful outcome."

“This is a success for Unite Legal Services and all our members should take some comfort from knowing that our legal services are available to act for members and their families. Unite Legal Services would like to thank Thompsons Solicitors who acted as panel solicitor for our member's family.”

Steve Fitzwalter from Thompsons Solicitors said: “This was a fairly straight forward case where it was obvious that Wavin should have done more to make sure an employee with a history of dermatitis stayed away from the product causing his condition. But rather than Wavin’s insurers accepting liability and settling the case quickly and relatively cheaply they did their best to delay the case, which made sure the legal costs soared. The insurance industry constantly bleats on about compensation culture and rising legal costs, which the government is using as justification for making it more difficult for injured people to claim, but this case shows how it is the insurance companies’ bad behaviour which pushes costs up. Unfortunately it’s not a unique example.”