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Berlin Social Court: One-off event is not enough
Berlin (jur). Possible oil vapors in the cabin of an aircraft do not justify recognition as an occupational disease if a nervous disorder occurs. If there is no permanent exposure to poisoned breathing air in an aircraft cabin, statutory accident insurance cannot recognize an occupational disease either, the Berlin Social Court ruled in a judgment announced on Friday, July 22, 2016 (file number: S 68 U 637/13). However, it could be that there was an occupational accident instead.
For years, the background to the legal dispute has been reports by pilots, stewardesses and flight attendants about illnesses due to poisoned cabin air on the plane. The nerve poison tricresyl phosphate (TCP) is repeatedly held responsible, which may get into the interior of the aircraft together with oil vapors from the aircraft turbines via the ventilation system. So far, it has been controversial whether the toxins occurring in the cabin air, so-called "foot events", cause illnesses.
In the specific case, the plaintiff has been working as a flight attendant since 1999. In October 2011, he went to a doctor for numerous complaints. He complained of tingling skin, shortness of breath, muscle twitching, stomach and headache and difficulty concentrating. He blamed it on breathing poisoned cabin air. On October 3, 2011, such a “fume event” occurred on board an aircraft.
When the doctors diagnosed the man with a nerve conduction disorder, a so-called polyneuropathy, and classified him as unfit to fly and thus unable to work, he wanted his illness to be recognized as an occupational disease or at least comparable to an occupational disease.
The professional association for transport, post-logistics and telecommunications declined to be recognized. There is neither a recognized occupational disease listed in the Occupational Diseases Ordinance, nor is the plaintiff's illness comparable to a recognized occupational disease. He was therefore not entitled to an injured person's pension.
The flight attendant had no success before the social court. According to the assessment of the expert opinion obtained, the prerequisites for an occupational disease may exist. In particular, the plaintiff was used in airplanes that had become known from the pollution of the cabin air by various pollutants.
However, the expert could not clarify how the different substances interact and could cause polyneuropathy, according to the Berlin judges in their judgment of July 7, 2016. The applicant had worked as a flight attendant for a long time, but only from a single "fume event" reported. A prerequisite for recognition as an occupational disease, however, is a "permanent burden" and not just a one-time affliction.
Under certain circumstances, however, there could have been an accident at work, the court said. However, this question was not the subject of the dispute. fle