Proving “causation” is a standard obstacle in any mesothelioma compensation case for an alleged asbestos exposure, which led to the victim’s asbestos-related condition. However, a mesothelioma claim can be settled to the victim’s favour, even when the defendant denies any liability throughout the proceedings. In one recent case, a six-figure sum was paid by the defendant’s insurers in an out of court settlement to the widow of a deceased mesothelioma sufferer “believed to have been unknowingly exposed to asbestos” at his workplace.
The case involves several regularly occurring characteristics found with incidents of mesothelioma, which sadly continue to be reported more than 30 years after the first asbestos ban was introduced in the UK.
The victim was a former teacher who lost his life to the incurable cancer of the lung linings three years after leaving the school. However, exposure to asbestos is believed to have occurred when he was working at the school’s former site, thirty years earlier.
Pipework lagged with asbestos
A classroom in the building used by the teacher contained pipework lagged with asbestos, which it was claimed, had not been properly removed during a renovation carried out in 1985, the same year that the most toxic brown and blue asbestos was first banned in the UK. Up until the late 1970s / early 80s, asbestos was a readily available, low-cost building material, commonly used in a cement plaster mix to insulate the pipework systems of countless numbers of public premises, including schools, hospitals, and council buildings.
A year before leaving the school, the teacher visited his GP with suspected fluid on the lungs, which led to the discovery of a tumour and a successful surgery for its removal. Tragically, within 18 months, following the appearance of a visible lump, a scan confirmed that the cancer had spread. Following his death, his widow continued with pursuing the claim she had already begun with her husband against the school trust.
As can often be the case, the trust denied any liability throughout the entire proceedings and refused to pay any damages. In a statement, the school said that they passed the matter to their insurance company who settled out of court, adding that the case was “exceptional” in that cause and effect did not have to be proven by the claimant.
However, proving “causation” may not always be the final determining factor in particular cases.
Breach of duty “made the risk of injury more probable”
In a mesothelioma claim, it is required that the claimant must prove “on the balance of probabilities” that the “defendant’s breach of duty” caused the harm. However, the claimant does not have to prove that the defendant’s breach of duty was the “main cause” of the damage, but that it did “materially contribute” to the damage. A claimant may only need to show that the defendant’s breach of duty “made the risk of injury more probable”.
The introduction of Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, placed a responsibility on all employers to minimise employees’ exposure to health and safety risks, and to provide information to other people about their workplace which might affect their health and safety.
One in five of all lung disease deaths continue to be caused by mesothelioma
As recently as 2015, a detailed analysis of local authority schools reported that nearly 9 in 10 contained asbestos. More than three quarters of schools across the UK have been found to still contain significant amounts of asbestos, which are often improperly managed. In 2012, a House of Commons report, noted that, ‘over 140 school teachers have died from mesothelioma in the past ten years”, and called for urgent action. In November 2014, a Freedom of Information request made the shocking discovery that 19 teachers, on average, die every year from mesothelioma or related lung cancers caused by asbestos exposure.
Nearly two decades after the use of white asbestos was also banned, one in five of all lung disease deaths continue to be caused by mesothelioma or by asbestos-related cancer, according to the latest Health & Safety Executive report, Occupational Lung Disease in Great Britain, November 2017.