The House of Lords has overturned a Court of Appeal ruling in the stress at work case Barber v Somerset County Council.

The ruling applies only to this particular case as the judgment was based on fact and not a point of law, according to Veitch Penny head of insurance Mark Fowles, who acted for the council.

As such, the principles established by the Court of Appeal stood, he said.

Barber, who was a teacher employed by the council, lost his action for damages for stress in the Court of Appeal.

But, in the House of Lords, Lord Walker, who gave the main judgment, said he had been influenced by the fact that Barber had two absences from work due to stress.

He found that the Court of Appeal had failed to give adequate weight to the fact that there was a duty on the employer following the first absence to make inquiries about Barber's problems and see what could be done to ease them.

Lord Walker said Barber's condition should have been monitored and had it not improved with some slight easing of reduction in his duties, then some more drastic action should have been taken.

The decision was returned by a majority of four to one, with Lord Scott dissenting.

Fowles said: “This is an unusual decision in which the House of Lords has reversed the decision of the court below, on a factual basis rather than on the basis that the Court of Appeal was wrong in law.