The Supreme Court yesterday handed down Judgement in two leading Mesothelioma cases that, sensibly, has retained a sense of justice for asbestos victims and those close to them.
The cases of Dianne Willmore v Knowsley MBC and Karen Sienkiewicz (Enid Costello) v Greif (UK) Ltd came to appeal from Greif (UK) Ltd and Knowsley Council. The appeal was the latest in a long line of attempts by employers and the insurance industry to defeat the compensation opportunities of terminally ill victims and their families.
A video was published on the BBC which commented on the groundbreaking asbestos payouts. In brief, the case of Dianne Willmore centred around her exposure to asbestos whilst still a pupil at Bowring Comprehensive school in Merseyside. She was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer, in March 2007 at the extremely young age of 46. At the original trial of her case on 8 and 9 July 2009, Dianne gave evidence of Council workmen removing ceiling tiles to re-route cables.
She recalled that her school mates would place blazers into the ceiling spaces as a practical joke, removing tiles as they did so.
She recalled vandalised stacked tiles in the girls’ toilets. Some of these tiles turned out to contain asbestos. The Judge at Liverpool High Court found in her favour and awarded her £240,000 less DWP Benefits. The Council appealed to the Court of Appeal. On the 14th October 2010, 3 Judges in the Court of Appeal said that the case should not be overturned. Most tragically Dianne died of her illness the day after the decision was made.The case of Enid Costello, who died aged 74, involved her exposure to asbestos dust whilst employed as an office worker at a factory making steel drums between 1964 and 1988. She went into the factory which was at times contaminated with asbestos dust. Her case failed at first instance in October 2008.
Her employers argued that she had to prove that the asbestos dust that she had from them more than doubled her risk of developing Mesothelioma. Mrs Costello had not been exposed to asbestos dust during any other employments but she had been exposed to asbestos dust in the general atmosphere. When her case went to Court of Appeal in November 2009 the three Appeal Judges held in her favour.In respect of the Supreme Court appeal, both the local authority and the company were attempting to argue that, if the judgements were maintained against them, it would open the flood gates to many more claims for the future.
In reality, however, the House of Lords has only allowed the judicial system to continue to compensate victims and their relatives where no amount of money can truly recompense for a person’s life.All seven Law Lords said that the test as to whether or not a person should be compensated should remain as the ‘material contribution’ test and not a ‘doubling of the risk’ test as the Council and employers had suggested. Even though, medically, there is no minimum threshold dose of asbestos below which there is no risk of Mesothelioma, the Law Lords had been invited to make a decision as to where the legal line should be drawn, and what the legal threshold should be.This case is crucially important for those asbestos sufferers who have only small doses of asbestos exposure in their lives but yet still go on to be diagnosed with Mesothelioma. It is also important for those who have had exposure in schools since it is the first successful case involving a pupil.
Tracey Graham is a Principal Lawyer (Partner) in Personal Injury in the Manchester office of Slater and Gordon Lawyers.
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