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mercury poisoning

A B.C. judge has ruled a workers' compensation panel was "patently unreasonable" and violated its own rules when it concluded six high school teachers in the province's southeast did not prove they suffered mercury poisoning on the job.

The B.C. Supreme Court ordered the province's Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal to reconsider the case after concluding the tribunal's decision failed to properly weigh evidence about whether the teachers were poisoned.

The case involves Ivan McKnight, Hugh MacPherson, Lynne Williams, Russell Reid, David Hill and David Martin, who were all teachers at Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook, B.C.

The teachers applied for workers' compensation benefits in 2004 and 2005, claiming exposure to mercury in the school had made them ill with symptoms that included anxiety, irritability and depression.

The Workers' Compensation Board rejected their claims, as did the appeal tribunal in 2010.

While the appeal tribunal heard evidence the teachers were exposed to mercury, the panel concluded the evidence wasn't sufficient to prove they were poisoned.

But B.C. Supreme Court Judge Anthony Saunders said the appeal tribunal placed an unfair burden on the teachers, essentially requiring them to demonstrate a medical diagnosis of mercury poisoning, even though the provincial law that governs such claims does not require that level of proof.

"The panel's finding of the insufficiency of evidence in support of there having been mercury poisoning … was a breach of WCB policy, and a breach of the panel's obligation under [the Workers Compensation Act]," Saunders wrote.