We recently acted for the family of a man, Mr W, who sadly died from the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. The illness came on very rapidly. Mr W went on holiday to Tenerife with his daughter in the summer of 2012 (Mr W’s wife sadly died of an ovarian tumour and brain tumour about 10 years previously). During the holiday, Mr W became very short of breath, his condition worsened throughout the summer and he began suffering numbness to his face. His family called an ambulance and a stroke was suspected.
Mr W had in fact been suffering from mini-strokes, known as TIAs, and at the same time a growth was found in the lining of his lung, which was later diagnosed as mesothelioma. He died on 30 September 2013 at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading.
Mr W and his family were devastated by his diagnosis. However, it was clear to Mr W how he had come into contact with asbestos. Whilst we were only instructed after the sad death of Mr W, we were able to obtain a witness statements from Mr W’s son, who worked alongside him from time to time, and a former colleague.
Mr W worked for the Property Services Agency (“PSA”) between 1972 and 1985. On the face of it, there was no direct employer/employee relationship because the PSA did not appear on Mr W’s Inland Revenue schedule (a document which lists all employers from 1961 onwards). We alleged that Mr W was in effect an employee of the PSA and that the PSA owed him a duty of care under occupier’s liability.
Mr W was a floorer, working at locations such as the Broadmoor Hospital, RAF Holten and RAF High Wycombe. He often worked with asbestos flooring tiles, removing old asbestos tiles, bagging them up and throwing them into a skip.
Installing asbestos tiles
Mr W installed new asbestos flooring tiles such as Accoflex Armstrong Vinyl Asbestos tiles, Marley tiles and Nairnflex tiles. The witnesses told us that these tiles were provided by the PSA. In fact, the tiles pictured were found in Mr W’s garage. When these were analysed to determine the presence of any asbestos fibres using polarised light microscopy, the results showed that indeed Chrysotile asbestos (also known as white asbestos) was found amongst the sample.
Working with carpenters
Mr W also worked alongside carpenters who cut asbestos sheets with circular saws. He further swept away any asbestos dust and debris from the previous trades whilst working for the PSA. He had no warnings about the dangers of asbestos and was not provided with any protective equipment, such as a mask.
Issuing court proceedings
Proceedings were issued at the High Court and the successors to the PSA, the Department for Communities and Local Government vigorously denied the claim. Proceedings were served at the end of March and the Department for Communities and Local Government failed to file their defence within the required time limit. We therefore applied for ‘Judgment in Default’ which was granted by the Court. This effectively meant that Mr W’s family had won their case and the only issue to be decided was the amount of money the claim was worth.
Fire at Kingsway holds up progress
The defendant opposed the Court’s Order and applied to have the Order set aside on account of a serious fire beneath Kingsway and Campbell Street in London, where the offices of the Government Legal Department (“GLD”) were situated. On 1 April 2015, the fire occurred and the GLD was evacuated. Most of Kingsway was closed to traffic and generators were used to supply electricity to buildings in the Kingsway area (including the GLD’s premises) as repairs got underway. They alleged that it was not considered safe to reoccupy the building and in the immediate aftermath of the fire, teams communicated by personal mobile phones and text messages. Despite the GLD receiving a copy of the relevant documents on 16 April, they failed to file the required “Acknowledgment of Service” or “Defence” and the application to set aside the Court Order for Judgment in Default until 5 May 2015. This was over a month after the fire.
The Court allowed the defendant’s application but we vigorously fought it and the issue was due to be heard as a preliminary issue before Master Eastman at the High Court. The defendant made an offer to settle the claim at full value on 17 June 2015 and the family accepted the offer.