Sunshine Porcelain Potteries Proprietary Ltd. v. Nash

[1961] AC 927; [1961] 3 All ER 203; [1961] 3 WLR 747; 105 SJ 606
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Ms. Nash brought an action for compensation under the Victorian Worker’s Compensation Act 1928 (the 1928 Act) against her former employers, Sunshine Porcelain. She claimed compensation was payable after she contracted silicosis in the workplace.

Sunshine Porcelain Potteries employed Ms. Nash in the years 1931-38. During her time as an employee of Sunshine Porcelain, Ms. Nash was regularly exposed to silica laden dust, because of which she developed silicosis in the year 1950. In 1955, a doctor certified that she would be disabled from earning full wages due to silicosis. Because she had not received any compensation, she filed for damages. During the period of her employment, the 1928 Act was in force. Compensation payable under that Act did not include compensation for silicosis. However, by the time the damages were claimed, the Victorian Worker’s Compensation Act 1951 (the 1951 Act), which did provide for compensation if a worker had contract silicosis, had come into force.

The question was whether compensation under the 1951 Act was available for an injury sustained by Ms. Nash before the Act had come into force. The Court held that Ms. Nash was entitled to compensation.  The 1951 Act applied to her case because its terms were satisfied. There was nothing in the context or in the circumstances that required a restricted meaning to be given to the words of the statute to limit their retrospective application. As per the terms of the enactment, Ms. Nash’s was engaged in her employment “at any time prior to the date of the disablement,” and her disease was caused by the nature of the employment, so she could bring a claim under the 1951 Act.

“Their Lordships are unable to assume that, where a long interval has elapsed, as in this case, between the last inhalation of noxious material and the first manifestation of the disease, it is a medical fact that the disease was contracted before that inhalation ceased, and then lay dormant for many years. They have no reason to exclude the possibility that the noxious material remaining in the claimant's body may only have brought on the disease after a long time. If that be a possibility, then it is quite unreasonable to suppose that the legislature intended the success of a claim for compensation to depend on whether or not the claimant could prove by medical evidence that his disease was in fact contracted before he left the employment. But if s 12 requires that the injury must occur during the employment, that would have to be proved. No one has said that the inhalation of the noxious material is itself the injury, and that is the only thing that certainly occurs during the employment.” 3 All ER p. 208.

“Their Lordships recognise the strength of the arguments adduced by the learned judges who have taken a different view and regard this as a narrow and difficult case. But, in the end, they must return to the words of the new s 18 enacted by the Act of 1946. Those words apply exactly to the present case. The certificate and disablement were subsequent to its passing. The disease was ‘due to the nature of any employment in which the worker was employed at any time prior to the date of the disablement’. In their Lordships’ judgment, there is nothing in the context or in the circumstances to require that any restricted meaning should be given to the words of this section.” 3 All ER p. 209.

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