Woman settles for $23,000 in damages as victim of smokers at workplace

January 28, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

LONDON -- A nonsmoking information officer has become the first British citizen to be awarded compensation for damages to her health from the effects of passive smoking at her workplace.

Although the damages to Veronica Bland totaled only about $23,000, several experts predicted that her case would open the floodgates to a mass of similar lawsuits that could run into millions of dollars.

Ms. Bland, 36, contended she suffered chronic bronchitis because workers near her at the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council in northwest England smoked some 150 cigarettes a day.

"I joined the council in the hope that I would be working in a nonsmoking environment," Ms. Bland said yesterday. "But I soon became ill, suffering from sneezing, coughing, streaming eyes and then bronchitis."

Because her claim was settled out of court, there was no legal ruling by a judge in the case to set a precedent. But many others are expected to follow Ms. Bland's lead in seeking damages from employers or other agencies that permit smoking.

Ms. Bland's trade union, representing public employees, backed her action, as did the anti-smoking group ASH, Action on Smoking and Health.

A senior union officer said he was "very pleased" with the out-of-court settlement, which he said would help workers "persuade employers that it is necessary to do something about smoking at work."

ASH assistant director Mark Flannagan observed: "This is good news for those suffering from passive smoking at work. We now expect the floodgates to open as nonsmokers pursue similar claims against their employers."

Yesterday's settlement followed a government warning Tuesday that legislation would be introduced to outlaw smoking in public places -- and at work sites, if voluntary means fail. Dr. Brian Mawhinney, the health minister, issued the notice in the House of Commons.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified secondhand smoke as a carcinogen and said it kills about 3,000 American nonsmokers a year from lung cancer alone. The American Heart Association has estimated that secondhand smoke kills 53,000 Americans a year from cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

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