Lawyers have warned developers they are open to a huge new area of liability following a judge’s ruling last week that reclamation works were to blame for birth defects in 17 children

The case was launched by a group of mothers on behalf of their children, and centred around a former British Steel complex in Corby.

Corby council had denied that the claimants’ mothers had been exposed to harmful materials, but the judge ruled that reclamation works on the site between 1985 and 1999 were capable of leading to some, or all of, the birth defects, despite being carried out within health and safety rules at the time.

Rupert Choat, partner at CMS Cameron McKenna, said the case was evidence of the courts’ increasingly “claimant-friendly approach”.

Paula Whittell, partner at Berrymans Lace Mawer, which defended Corby council, said the judgment should serve as a warning to re-developers and reclaimers. “There are so many cases where developments have been built next to factories,” she said.

“The council complied with all of the existing regulations during the period work was carried out, but the judge is basically saying that’s not good enough. Children have 21 years in which to make a claim – the implications are significant.”