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Written on 4th June 2020

Laura initially acted for Stephen following his diagnosis of Mesothelioma in Portugal. Stephen came into contact with asbestos in the 1970s coming across asbestos in ceiling voids and on heating and ducting pipes.  He did his best to avoid disturbing the asbestos, but it just simply was not possible in confined spaces. He installed fire blankets which he believed contained asbestos in various properties such as schools and also worked alongside carpenters who cut Asbestolux sheets who were using them to box in pipes.

From the 1980s, he became self-employed, doing shop fitting work before working on many private contracts, fitting new bedrooms, kitchens and bespoke furniture. He was highly successful at his job, working on celebrities' houses and undertaking high value work. He and his wife, Marie, bought a holiday home in Portugal and he stopped work temporarily in or around 2015 to go over to Portugal to work on the holiday home which required extensive refurbishment. The ultimate plan was for Stephen and his wife to relocate to Portugal for the majority of the time, with Stephen continuing his business in the UK, managing the projects/contracts from abroad with his team of contractors, with ad hoc visits to the UK. Once the holiday home was done up, some time was going to be spent with Marie travelling.

Mesothelioma

However things did not quite go to plan when Stephen started to feel unwell in August 2017. He had left shoulder pain which just would not go away. He thought he ought to see a physiotherapist. His doctor referred him for an ECG and a chest x-ray, following which he had a biopsy. The first biopsy though was inconclusive so Stephen had to undergo a second biopsy. Initially it was thought that he had fibrosis, but the second biopsy revealed a Mesothelioma. Stephen was diagnosed in the last week of November 2017 and he and Marie were incredibly shocked and devastated by the diagnosis. He commenced chemotherapy in Portugal, intending to come back to England once he had completed four cycles of chemotherapy so that they could be around family.

Stephen had planned to temporarily stop the work on the Portuguese house in any event because he was due to come back to the UK in November 2017 to do a particular job in the New Year. Unfortunately, this was not to be and he had to cancel the job and the couple stayed out in Portugal because he needed treatment due to the Mesothelioma.

Interim payment and treatment

Laura notified the claim to the insurers for the Council that employed Stephen during his early years and an admission of liability was forthcoming. The Council made an interim payment of £50,000. Work continued on the Portuguese house. The builders were engaged, but initially Stephen was doing a lot of the work. Stephen fell ill though just after he was fitting the kitchen. Marie, of course accompanied him to all his treatments. They were not entitled to the equivalent of the NHS treatment so they were paying for many medical appointments and tests. The couple were faced with a difficult decision. When they came back to Manchester they made an appointment to see the GP. He told them that Mesothelioma was a serious condition. He told them that they had three choices:

  1. To have chemotherapy immediately in Portugal (not surgery) and then come back to England once all of the cycles have been completed;
  2. To stay in Manchester and get transferred to the Christie Hospital, but that would delay chemotherapy until the New Year;
  3. To go back to Lisbon and have the surgery plus chemotherapy there. They were told that a lot of people have treatment over in Portugal, but that it came with risks.

The family discussed the option and they decided that chemotherapy was Stephen’s best chance. Unfortunately, once Stephen had a biopsy in late November, the doctors said that the cancer was too advanced for surgery to remove it and so he started chemotherapy. Stephen managed three cycles of chemotherapy before he became too poorly to carry on. Painkillers did not keep on top of his pain and he could not sleep lying down. A lot of the house looked like a building site during this time and it was very difficult conditions for the couple to be living in. The work on the house was meant to be done together with Stephen project managing, but Marie had to take on this role which was very difficult for her because she was not a trades person.

Stephen started to deteriorate in January 2018 with a terrible pain in his chest and nausea. He was unable to walk and Marie drove him to A&E because he was in so much pain. Stephen tragically died two days later, with his children and step children by his side who had flown out as soon as possible. Later, Marie went to see a nurse from Wythenshawe hospital when she was back in Manchester (as well as the consultant) taking all of the scans with her. They explained to her that the end result would have been the same regardless of whether Stephen had been seen in Portugal or in England. Marie (and Stephen) did not appreciate at the time that the tumour had spread.

High value claim

The case was complicated in terms of its financial worth because Stephen of course had his own business which he ran before the move to Portugal. There was also a lot work to be done to the property that they had bought and the loss of Stephen’s services for this needed to be valued (which was tricky as receipts were not typically available). The Accounts did not reflect the actual loss of earnings that Stephen suffered nor the likely return that Stephen could achieve had he been able to work the hours that he wanted once the Portuguese house was completed. There was not much time between the move from Manchester to Portugal for Stephen’s Accounts to show likely net income. Laura obtained statements from property developers and interior designers who worked with Stephen prior to his illness on various projects and refurbishments. They were able to provide insight on the work that Stephen did to staircases, cabinets, ceilings and so on. They confirmed that he could turn his hand to anything. If something needed doing that he did not have the expertise in, he had a team of people around him that he could call upon. They confirmed that nothing was too much trouble for Stephen and he went the extra mile. He was an excellent joiner and worked on many bespoke projects for wardrobes and cabinets which produced excellent results. He was a perfectionist with a lot of contracts all over the country. Many jobs he could do himself, but where he could not, he engaged only recommended professionals who could do the job up to his required standard.

These statements added weight to our argument that Stephen would have been earning a certain level in the future and a schedule of loss was drafted which reflected Marie ’s dependency on Stephen for his income and services. Neither Stephen nor Marie were of State Pension age when he passed away. It was incredibly important to Marie that the claim was settled at the highest possible amount because she was not in receipt of any income. The work on the Portuguese house was completed, but it took a lot longer and was more costly than would have been the case had Stephen been alive. It was also an incredibly stressful time for Marie project managing this while she was grieving in Portugal, away from her family.

The claim was valued and Marie, on Laura’s advice put forward an offer of £450,000 gross. The defendants put forward a counter offer of £430,000 soon after which Marie decided to accept.

Laura said

"there is no amount of money that can compensate Marie for the loss of her husband. The lovely couple had not long made a huge life decision to relocate to Portugal. It was a huge undertaking to create their dream holiday home together which they would be able to enjoy for many years during their retirement. They decided that Stephen could adapt his job, operating from abroad, taking time out here and there to travel Europe as a couple, but this sadly turned out not to be the case. Marie had to finish the project alone and was robbed of the time that she had left with Stephen which should have been over 25 years. Nevertheless, Marie is glad that the Council acknowledged that their negligent action and inaction years ago contributed to Stephen’s illness and can now start to piece a new life together, knowing that she has the financial security to do so."

If you or a member of your family has been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease contact our expert team to look into making a claim by email at idclaims@boyesturner.com.