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'Careful and Impressive' Asbestos Widow Awarded Substantial Damages

Fading memories and destroyed employment records can pose a particular problem to those seeking compensation for asbestos-related diseases, which very often take decades to develop. In awarding a widow substantial damages, however, the High Court was able to follow a trail of evidence stretching back almost 50 years.

The woman's husband died in 2016, aged 76, from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs almost invariably linked to asbestos exposure. She launched proceedings against a company he worked for in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The company had long since ceased trading.

The husband did not make a formal statement before his death and there were no extant records of his employment by the company. The Court therefore had to rely on his widow's testimony, largely based on her memory of events in the distant past, and written evidence from two men, both now deceased, who worked at the same industrial plant as the man at around the same time.

Ruling on the case, the Court noted the fallibility of memory and the clear danger of treating honest recollection of events that happened long ago as firm evidence. The widow, however, was a careful, honest and impressive witness and her account of relevant events, and of complaints made by her husband concerning his working environment, were in most respects reliable.

The Court found that, whilst employed by the company, which was engaged at the time as a subcontractor at the industrial plant, the man was exposed to asbestos dust when lagging and de-lagging pipes. The company had breached the duty of care it owed him and that was the cause of his personal injury.

The widow was awarded £75,000 in compensation to reflect the extreme pain, suffering and loss of amenity her husband endured before succumbing to mesothelioma. She was awarded a further £15,000 in respect of the care she gave him during his illness and the loss of his practical services as a husband. Further sums were agreed and the Court left it to lawyers to calculate the total award.