Last week the Court of Appeal dismissed the latest attempts by farmworkers to claim compensation for neurological injury, which they allegedly suffered after being exposed to organophosphates from sheep dipping. Some 20 manufacturers were involved as defendants.

Handing down its judgment in the organophosphate (sheep dip) group litigation (Herbert George Snell & Others v Robert Young & Co and Others), the Court of Appeal concluded that, as the claimants had not been able to advance their cases to a viable stage, it was unjust to allow the actions to continue. It also set out clear guidelines on the effect of dismissing group litigation. The court made clear that all individual claims within the group were dismissed for all time. It is the first time an application to strike out as an abuse of process has been tested in relation to a group litigation order. The decision is significant for anyone being sued in group litigation. The claimants spent more than £1m of public money in trying to establish that their alleged injuries were attributable to organophosphate exposure. Insurers and the defendant manufacturers have had to spend considerable sums defending the actions, even though medical causation could not be established.

The court reviewed the nature and purpose of a group litigation order. In its judgment, it explained that the machinery was developed to accommodate claimants who could not hope to litigate on their own, but who, with the support of public funding that can be justified when a large number of cases are involved, may be able to establish an arguable case. But having enjoyed the benefit, they must also bear the burden.

The upshot of the court decision is that not only are these claimants now barred for all time, but the decision will also affect a number of others said to be waiting in the wings.

  • Nigel Montgomery is a litigation partner at Beachcroft Wansbroughs