Laura acted for Peter, son of John who was a firefighter for the East Sussex Fire Services, in particular at the fire station in Brighton as a cadet from 1958 until 1976. John contacted a London law firm soon after his diagnosis in 2016 and gave a witness statement about his asbestos exposure. He said that he attended fires and it was common for roofs and garages to be made from asbestos corrugated cement. Warehouses used to explode and debris would spread over a wide area. Breathing apparatus was provided, but the firefighters did not use them. Ceiling hooks were carried on the engines and John used one himself to pull down ceilings to check for fires in the voids above them. He also said he knocked down holes in partition walls that he believed contained asbestos. He also used large asbestos gloves.
Supportive statements were obtained from other colleagues and the law firm corresponded with the insurers for East Sussex County Council. Very sadly John died on 1 March 2017 and John's son, once he was ready to, carried on the claim as personal representative of John's estate.
Progression of Mesothelioma
John started to get short of breath at the beginning of 2016. He was diagnosed with a pleural effusion which was drained in June 2016. Following a biopsy at Guy’s Hospital, he was told in late October 2016 that he suffered from Mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer. Ten days after the operation, he sadly suffered a stroke and was moved to Kings College Hospital and then back to Brighton. At the time that he made his statement to the previous law firm, he was unable to move his left arm or hand and had great difficulty with his balance which meant that he could not really manage on his own at home. He was moved to a nursing home in mid-November 2016 where he sadly passed away just over three months later.
Claim on behalf of the Estate
Peter wished to carry on the claim. Whilst no amount of money could compensate the family for the loss of their father, the family wanted an acknowledgement of the negligence that had occurred during John's employment with the Fire Service. Unfortunately, the legal team at the previous law firm decided in 2019 that there were not sufficient prospects of success to justify issuing court proceedings. The Council’s insurers had made it very clear that they were going to defend the case despite the supportive witness statements. They relied on Health and Safety practices that were present during John's employment and disclosed documents that supported this. Peter was told that that the claim could not be pursued further and that he could seek a second opinion if he so wished.
Peter contacted Laura in Autumn 2019 soon after it became clear that the other law firm would not be able to take the case any further. Laura swiftly reviewed the documents and decided with a leading barrister that there were sufficient prospects of success in relation to the pulling down of the ceilings to continue with the claim and that there were legal grounds for a successful outcome. It was clear though that engineering evidence would be needed as to a likely dose calculation of the asbestos exposure at the time given the years of alleged asbestos exposure and the Health and Safety practices in place at the time.
Issuing Court Proceedings
A claimant has three years from the date that they knew they were suffering from an asbestos related disease to issue a claim in the Court. Where someone has passed away, the personal representative has three years from the date of death (provided that the three year time limit when the claimant was aware has not already passed). Laura therefore had until 1 March 2020 to issue proceedings in the Court. She had to act swiftly to gain updated medical records for John and to instruct a respiratory physician to prepare a medical report for the Court. She also drafted a schedule of loss which is a document that sets out the claimant’s best financial case and recommended an offer was put forward to the defendants. At the same time, she issued proceedings at the High Court to protect Peter’s position and to stop the limitation clock running.
John's was a particularly sad case in relation to the medical history. It was the opinion of the medico-legal expert that it was atrial fibrillation following the operation for Mesothelioma that caused the stroke. Atrial fibrillation is a common occurrence in individuals with Mesothelioma. The expert believed that, on the balance of probabilities, the stroke that John suffered in October 2016 was caused by the presence of Mesothelioma and the requirement for the operation in order to diagnose the underlying Mesothelioma. He believed this despite the other risk factors for the occurrence of stroke that John suffered such as a smoking history and hypertension. It is extremely sad that not only was John suffering from the symptoms of breathlessness and chest pain, fatigue and so on from Mesothelioma, but he also had a stroke which left him with difficulties with balance and restricted use on one side.
The family were delighted that six weeks after the offer was put forward to the defendants, the offer was accepted without the need to effect formal service of all of the documents on the Council and without the need for engineering evidence to support the claim.
Quote from Client
Despite being open about the difficulties of our late father’s case, Laura acted promptly and had a clear strategy which ultimately proved successful. She was also highly transparent throughout the process and sensitive to the pain and suffering caused by our father’s passing”.
“Before developing mesothelioma our father was an otherwise fit and healthy septuagenarian who looked forward an active old-age spent with us, his children, and his grandchildren. Sadly, the asbestos that he was exposed to while saving other people’s lives as a firefighter, ultimately cost our father some of the best years of his own life. While Laura’s work in winning the settlement does not bring our father back it does provide us, his family, with a sense of justice over a death which should never have occurred