A Righteous Decision for UK Mesothelioma Victims
All seven Supreme Court Judges today ruled in favor of arguments advanced on behalf of Dianne Willmore and Enid Costello whose low level exposures to asbestos resulted in their contracting the fatal cancer, mesothelioma. The judgment, which was handed down by the Law Lords this morning (March 9, 2011), came as a huge relief after close questioning during the Court proceedings last year had led to pessimistic predictions by some observers. This is the first victory at this level for a claimant (Willmore) whose exposure took place at school and as such is a landmark case. Reacting to the news, Tony Whitston, Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups' Forum UK, said:
This case involved the wrongful exposure of two people to asbestos, which caused their deaths. There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos. Arguments for a 'safe' threshold are everything to do with denying liability for compensation and nothing to do with protecting people. This case not only protects compensation for those who have been negligently exposed to low levels of asbestos, but also gives a warning to those who think that workplaces such as schools, which are heavily contaminated with asbestos, are low risk.
Solicitor Ruth Davies, who represented Dianne Willmore's husband Barre, said:
Barre Willmore is absolutely delighted about the result. He knows how pleased Dianne was knowing on her deathbed that her family would be provided for. He was relieved that she was unaware of the appeal. The compensation won't bring Dianne back but will provide some solace.
These cases were another attack on asbestos disease victims. The defendants were trying to change the law that has been working perfectly well for many years so that fewer people who are dying can get properly compensated.1
Ms. Willmore was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 46 in March 2007; she believed that the exposure which caused her illness occurred during refurbishment work undertaken at Bowring Comprehensive school by Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council. The compensation awarded to her in 2009 by the judge at the Liverpool High Court was £240,000 less the repayment of government benefits.
Enid Costello also experienced low level exposure to asbestos as an office worker in a factory where asbestos was sometimes processed. Although her case was lost in the lower court, it was won at the Court of Appeal in 2009 when all 3 judges ruled in her favour. Commenting on today's news, her solicitor Norman Jones said It would be manifestly unfair if the law had been changed to deny victims of one of the worst fatal industrial diseases from receiving fair compensation.
This judgment is a terrific outcome for UK asbestos victims and a vindication of the hard work of the legal teams involved as well as the support they received from asbestos victims' groups and members of the Asbestos in Schools campaign. It has implications not only for other victims of low level exposures but also for the Government which has consistently refused to act on the potential risk posed by widespread asbestos contamination of schools. According to a news release issued by the Asbestos in Schools campaign: More than 75% of schools in the country contain asbestos, with most containing the more dangerous types.2 In 2009, the Chief Executive of the British Safety Council confirmed the asbestos risk saying It is unacceptable that the UK, in 2009, has not yet comprehensively assessed the risks that teachers and pupils in each and every school face A recommendation made last month by the Department for Education Asbestos Steering Group urged the Government to commission an assessment of the risk asbestos in schools posed to children. As veteran campaigner Michael Lees pointed out: For Dianne and many others the assessment will be too late. We can only hope that this legal victory will provide the final push needed for the Government to accept its responsibility and address this hazard.
March 9, 2011
2 Asbestos in Schools. Update 119: Supreme Court Asbestos Judgment. Profound Implications for Schools. 9 March 2011.