A Tesco delivery driver has won a legal battle with the supermarket after contracting a potentially fatal disease believed to have been caused by handling items soaked in rat urine.
Darren Finn, 42, is lucky to be alive after he was hospitalised with Weil’s disease which spread through his body turning his skin ‘Homer Simpson yellow’ as his kidneys began to fail.
Doctors believe the lorry driver contracted the disease through a minor cut on his eye after handling empty packaging and food waste while carrying out deliveries from the now-closed Harlow, Essex, depot.
The father-of-two was admitted to hospital on November 15, 2012, where doctors treated him for kidney failure, jaundice and loss of liver function while they struggled to establish what had caused his body to go into near-fatal shutdown.
It wasn’t until five days later that test results finally pinpointed Weil’s disease.
Mr Finn, who now works for logistics company DHL, has received a five figure settlement after Tesco ended a five-year legal battle, prior to trial.
Darren Finn, 42, from Harlow, Essex, won a five figure payout from Tesco after contracting Weil’s disease from handling items soaked in rat urine
Mr Finn said it was common to come into contact with rats on a daily basis while working for Tesco. He said it wasn’t uncommon for rat urine to drip on his face. Pictured: A dead rat at the now closed Tesco warehouse in Harlow, Essex
Tesco said they take health and safety issues on their sites very seriously.
Mr Finn, a former Tesco employee from Harlow, Essex, said: ‘I honestly believe if I hadn’t gone to hospital when I did, I wouldn’t be here now.
‘After two weeks of battling extreme flu-like symptoms my eyes and skin both turned a violent shade of yellow and I could barely walk.
‘By the time I arrived in hospital it felt like every part of my body was bruised and my head was going to explode with the pain.
‘If I had waited another day to go to hospital the disease would have spread to my heart and lungs.
‘I gave a urine sample to the doctors when I got there and it was the same colour as a glass of Coca Cola.
‘That’s when I really started to worry and they began asking if I had been on holiday recently or on a fishing trip. Had I been anywhere where I could have come into contact with rat urine?
‘I had never heard of it before and had no idea you could catch it from rats but I knew instantly it had to be from work.
‘Rats were constantly urinating over everything – the waste cardboard, cages we moved things in and the floor. It wasn’t uncommon for it to drip on my face.’
The father-of-two was admitted to hospital on November 15, 2012, where doctors treated him for kidney failure, jaundice and loss of liver function. Pictured: A dead rat at the now closed Tesco warehouse in Harlow, Essex
Doctors believe the lorry driver contracted the disease through a minor cut on his eye after handling empty packaging and food waste while carrying out deliveries from the now-closed Harlow depot. Pictured: Garbage soaked in rodent urine at the now closed Tesco warehouse
WHAT IS WEIL’S DISEASE AND HOW TO SPOT THE SYMPTOMS
Weil’s disease is a form of a bacterial infection also known as leptospirosis.
It is carried by animals, most commonly in rats and cattle.
It can be caught by humans through contact with rat or cattle urine, most commonly through contaminated fresh water.
It attacks the kidney and liver, before making its way through the organs.
The disease can be transmitted through cuts and scratches or the lining of the mouth, throat or eyes.
Symptoms include a high temperature, (usually between 38 and 40°C), chills, sudden headaches, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, muscle pain (particularly in the calves and lower back), conjunctivitis (irritation and redness of the eyes), a cough and a short-lived rash.
Olympic rowing champion Andy Holmes died of Weil’s disease in 2010 aged 51, after it is believed the bacteria entered his body through blisters on his hands.
Mr Finn said it was common to come into contact with rats on a daily basis while working for the multinational company, which employs more than 500,000 people across 7,000 stores.
Mr Finn said: ‘Around four years before this happened we were asked to start picking up food waste and damaged items which were being stored in the warehouse.
‘We started handling damaged products which were kept in thin bags that often ripped.
HE continued’As you can imagine, rotting food waste was a hub for rats and our gloves would get soaked in urine.
‘Once your gloves are wet they harbour disease and they would stay that way for a while.
‘The same cages which were used to transport food waste were then used to transport fresh products to all the stores without being cleaned.’
While he was in hospital for the week, Mr Finn claims he wasn’t contacted by his employer until he had spoken with his union representative.
Mr Finn, who has been married to his wife Carly, 42, for 12 years, said: ‘One of the doctors actually said to me while I was in hospital that if I hadn’t of been in good shape and health, the consequences could have been fatal.
‘The ordeal has had a profound effect on my life with a real negative impact on my marriage.
‘Throughout everything, I really felt as if the Tesco managers didn’t care about my welfare or the rest of my colleagues.
‘Although those in charge didn’t provide me with support while I was in hospital, my colleagues did – grouping together to do a whip-round to cover the financial loss of being too sick to do Christmas overtime.’
Mr Finn said: ‘One of the doctors actually said to me while I was in hospital that if I hadn’t of been in good shape and health, the consequences could have been fatal’
Tracey Benson, specialist personal injury lawyer from Slater and Gordon, who represented Mr Finn, said: ‘Darren has been through a huge ordeal which has had an extremely negative effect on his life for a number of years.
‘No worker should have their life put at risk at work and be forced to work in squalid conditions.
‘The employer has a duty of care to keep all their staff safe while in the work place and in this case regulations applied which were breached.
‘This duty was not carried out here and we hope the company will learn from these mistakes.’
A Tesco spokesman said: ‘We take any health and safety issues at our sites very seriously.
‘Following Mr Finn’s original allegation in December 2012, the Harlow site where he was based was thoroughly inspected by Environmental Health officers who found we had robust pest control routines in place.’