Friday, March 18, 2005

Asbestos Case sets precedent

– by Safety Consultant Richard Labrador –

In what could be a key ruling in determining the outcome of cases involving secondary exposure to asbestos dust, the Court of Appeal in the UK has overturned a decision to award damages to a mesothelioma victim, who contracted the disease through secondary means.

The case – Maguire v Harland & Wolff – centred on the degree of knowledge about the risks of asbestos at the time of the victim’s exposure.

Between 1960 and April 1965 Harland & Wolff employed James Maguire as a boiler-maker at its shipyard in Liverpool. Although Mr Maguire suffered fault-exposure to asbestos dust, at no stage did he become ill. His wife, however, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2000, having contracted it from exposure to asbestos dust on her husband’s work clothes.

In the initial hearing the judge found in favour of Mrs Maguire in that although she was never employed by the company, during her husband’s employment it was reasonably foreseeable that Mrs Maguire’s health was at risk from exposure to asbestos dust. Mrs Maguire died shortly after the hearing.

That decision has now been reversed on account of the state of knowledge on the risks of secondary exposure to asbestos at the time of Mr Maguire’s employment. The Court of Appeal was of the view that the alarm did not sound until late 1965 when it began to be appreciated that there could be no safe or permissible level of exposure, direct or indirect, to asbestos dust.

Meanwhile, after hearing evidence in ten test cases, a judge has ruled in favour of paying out compensation to people with pleural plaques – internal scars on the lining of the lungs, which indicate asbestos exposure. Norwich Union and British Shipbuilders argued that pleural plaques did not impair quality of life or lead to serious diseases. But lawyers acting for the test case claimants said that pay-outs should stand owing to the anxiety caused by the proof they had been exposed to asbestos. While the principle of entitling pleural plaque victims to compensation was upheld the money they can claim has been cut. Those claiming full and final settlements can expect around £6,000 - £7,000 – down from £10,000 - £15,000 – while provisional payments have been reduced to about £3,000 - £4,000, from £5,000 - £6,000. Those claiming provisional amount may return to court should they develop a more serious asbestos related disease.


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