Gardiner v Motherwell Machinery and Scrap Co Ltd: HL 1961

The pursuer had worked for the defenders for three months, demolishing buildings, and had contracted dermatitis. He claimed that they had not provided him with adequate washing facilities and that failure caused the dermatitis. On appeal the defenders successfully contended that the pursuer had failed to prove any connection between his disease and the work which he had been doing. The pursuer appealed.
Held: Lord Reid said: ‘In my opinion, when a man who has not previously suffered from a disease contracts that disease after being subjected to conditions likely to cause it, and when he shows that it starts in a way typical of disease caused by such conditions, he establishes a prima facie presumption that his disease was caused by those conditions. I think that the facts proved in this case do establish such a presumption. That presumption could be displaced in many ways. The respondents sought to show, first, that it is negatived by the subsequent course of the disease and, secondly, by suggesting tinea pedis as an equally probable cause of its origin. I have found the case difficult, but on the evidence as it stands I have come to the opinion that they have failed on both points. If the appellant’s disease and consequent loss should be attributed to the work which he was doing in the respondents’ service, it was not argued that they are not liable.’ Lord Cohen and Lord Guest agreed, as did Lord Hodson although with some initial hesitation. Lord Guest described the question as a pure question of fact whether on the balance of probabilities the dermatitis had arisen from the pursuer’s employment. The House would seem to have regarded the pursuer as establishing a prime facie case which the defenders had failed to displace.
References: [1961] 1 WLR 1424, [1961] 3 All ER 831
Judges: Lord Reid, Lord Cohen, Lord Hodson, Lord Guest
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
This case is cited by:

  • Cited – Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Ltd and Others HL 20-Jun-2002
    The claimants suffered mesothelioma after contact with asbestos while at work. Their employers pointed to several employments which might have given rise to the condition, saying it could not be clear which particular employment gave rise to the . .
    (, Times 21-Jun-02, , [2002] UKHL 22, [2003] 1 AC 32, [2002] Lloyds Rep Med 361, [2002] 3 All ER 305, [2002] PIQR P28, (2002) 67 BMLR 90, [2002] 3 WLR 89, [2002] ICR 798)
  • Cited – McGhee v National Coal Board HL 1973
    The claimant who was used to emptying pipe kilns at a brickworks was sent to empty brick kilns where the working conditions were much hotter and dustier. His employers failed, in breach of their duty, to provide him with washing facilities after his . .
    ([1973] 1 WLR 1, [1973] SC (HL) 37, [1972] 3 All ER 1008, , [1972] UKHL 7, , [1972] UKHL 11)

These lists may be incomplete.
Last Update: 27 November 2020; Ref: scu.190114