Union wins £40,000 damages as Virgin Trains breaches disability law

01 July 2005

Thanks to ASLEF, a Virgin Trains driver has been awarded £41,000 damages by Exeter Employment Tribunal for Virgin’s failure to allow him to return to work and failing to make adjustments while he was recovering from an injury sustained in a train crash at a level crossing.

Virgin"s Plymouth Cross-Country line was found to be in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in failing to make reasonable adjustments to enable Martyn Hazelhurst to return to light duties after an operation on a knee injury caused by the crash.

Virgin told Mr Hazelhurst that he had been "stood down" in spite of his GP"s recommendation that he could return to work. Virgin even suggested that he apply to his GP for a further sick note, which his GP refused to give.

Virgin was ordered to pay Mr Hazelhurst compensation for loss of earnings and injury to feelings. The award included an element of aggravated damages for Virgin’s handling of the case, including failing to notify the court that a key witness – the head of occupational health – was unable to attend the hearing. 

Mr Hazelhurst was represented throughout his case by his union ASLEF and union law firm Thompsons. 

The tribunal took the unusual step of saying it would make recommendations in relation to the "adjustments" that Virgin should take under the DDA to allow Mr Hazelhurst to return to work. 

Martyn Hazelhurst said: "It appeared to me that Virgin showed a total disregard for or lack of awareness of the DDA. ASLEF"s legal service and Thompsons Solicitors were tremendous in sorting my situation out. I"m delighted with the result, but more importantly I"m really looking forward to getting back to driving trains."

Keith Norman, acting General Secretary of train driver"s union ASLEF, said that while he was pleased the union had won the case, he regretted that it had ever been necessary. “No amount of money really compensates for the injuries Mr Hazelhurst has suffered or the way he has been treated by Virgin,“ he said. “Virgin has behaved as if it is above the law. However, Martyn would not have been in this situation if it hadn’t been for his original injury caused by a lorry on an open level crossing. Our union is pressing for technology to be placed in cabs that will transmit pictures of the line two miles ahead.”

Vaughan Gething, Martyn Hazelhurst"s lawyer at Thompsons Solicitors in Bristol said: "This is a positive approach by the employment tribunal exactly as envisaged by the disability legislation. Virgin will hopefully respond accordingly and both they and Martyn will have a productive future together."

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