UK & Europe
Insurance & Reinsurance
The High Court has refused an application by Tata Steel to have limitation tried as a preliminary issue in respect of a group action alleging historic exposure to dust and fumes at work.
On 2 February 2017, the High Court approved an application for a Group Litigation Order (GLO) submitted by a number of former British Steel workers and family members of deceased workers. It is alleged that the workers were exposed to dust and fumes at work and have subsequently developed occupational diseases.
This action has already been subject to several applications on various issues:
Tata Steel ("Tata"), as the successor in title to British Steel, has filed a Generic Defence in which they argued that at least some of the claims are statute barred under the Limitation Act 1980.
In order to address this, Tata applied to have limitation tried as a preliminary issue on lead cases.
The Court has the power to direct that a preliminary issue be heard under CPR 3.1(2)(i) and (j). Tata asked for the Court to use that discretion to consider the issue of limitation on the lead cases.
The time limit in which a claim for personal injury can be brought is 3 years, whether from the date of injury or the date of knowledge as defined in section 14 of the Limitation Act. However, this may be disapplied (per section 33) at the discretion of the Court.
The leading case considering the general principles of when limitation can be disapplied is Carroll v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police. Tata argued that applying the principles from Carroll demonstrated that they had a strong case on limitation in a significant proportion of the claims. Tata contended that a preliminary hearing would save costs and would minimise automatic prejudice to them by requiring them to deal with the "limitation point and substantive issues simultaneously".
In response, the Claimants argued that:
The application was refused. Acknowledging the arguments advanced by Tata, Mr Justice Turner nonetheless found that the overriding objective in the group litigation "would not be best served by determining limitation defences by way of the hearing of any preliminary issue".
He stated "the costs of hearing preliminary limitation issues are likely to be out of proportion to the perceived benefits" and that the likelihood of delay would be a further consequence.
Tata's argument that it was automatically prejudiced by having to argue two tactical issues simultaneously (limitation issue and substantive defence) was also dismissed. Mr Justice Turner stated that "so long as the court rigorously follows the proper sequence of analysis, the result will be fair to both sides."
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