Walker v Sita Information Network Computing UKEAT/0097/12/KN

Subjects: Meaning of Disability – Effect of Impairment – Cause of Impairment

C suffered from functional overlay compounded by obesity. C suffered from asthma, dyslexia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a number of other significant health problems. Because medical experts could not identify a physical or mental cause for his symptoms the ET held that C was not disabled.

Facts

C had what was described as a constellation of health problems. As a result he suffered from a number of significant symptoms including pains in the head, knee, abdomen, lower back, left shoulder, left arm, left leg, both feet and in the anal area. He also suffered from a number of other symptoms including constant fatigue, poor concentration and memory loss. An occupational physician said that C suffered from a permanent chronic condition which affected his day to day living. He was unable to identify any cause for C's symptoms. C weighed 21 ‘/2 stone. The view of Dr Davis, another occupational health specialist was that anyone who was that overweight was likely to suffer from breathlessness and have generalized pain. The ET held that C was not disabled.

Held

The EAT allowed the appeal. Langstaff P was referred to the cases of McNicol v Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance and Rugamer v Sony Music Entertainment, both reported at [2002] ICR 381 and also College of Ripon & York St John v Hobbs [2002] IRLR 185. Langstaff P held that the ET in this case had taken the wrong approach. An ET should identify whether an individual has a physical or mental impairment. In this case C clearly had both. The ET had wrongly thought that it was necessary to establish that the physical or mental impairment was caused by something physical or mental. The relevance of what caused the impairment is evidential not legal — where there is no recognized cause an ET may be more likely to conclude that the claimant's account of his symptoms is not genuine. In this case the ET had accepted that C's symptoms were genuine.

Comment

This is an interesting case concerning the nature of ”impairment”. The significant issue in McNicol and Rugamer was whether ”impairment” referred to the cause of the disability or its effects. The EAT in the College of Ripon case and the Court of Appeal in McNicol emphasized the importance of applying the words of the statute and came down on the side of focusing on the effect of the impairment rather than the cause. Langstaff P's judgment confirms this and is a helpful reminder of the need to take a common sense approach in cases where the cause of the impairment is unclear.