Employers who fail to act but are aware, or should be aware, that a worker is suffering from stress, could be deemed liable after a landmark court ruling. As a result insurers might see fewer stress claims, rather than more.

The case, Barber v Somerset County Council, was decided by the House of Lords last week.

It reversed a decision by the Court of

Appeal that Somerset County Council was

not in breach of its duty of care to Barber, a schoolteacher who suffered a mental

breakdown in 1996.

But while the decision was reversed in this case, the Lords did not overturn the guidance laid down by the Court of Appeal.

The appeal court originally found that unless an employer knows of a particular problem, it was entitled to assume the employee could cope with the normal pressures of his job.

Royal & SunAlliance technical underwriting manager Phil Bell said the decision brought "greater clarity" to stress claims.