Supreme Court Rules in Landmark Mesothelioma Case
Date online: 06/06/2011
A recent ruling of the Supreme Court is an important victory for victims of mesothelioma, particularly those who claim to have developed the disease after exposure to only small amounts of asbestos dust.
The Court dismissed the appeals of the employers of two women who died of mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos fibres. In each case, the employer was the sole known source of occupational exposure, the extent of which was found to be very small.
Mrs Enid Costello was exposed to asbestos whilst working as an accounts clerk for Greif (UK) Ltd. at its factory in Ellesmere Port. Mrs Dianne Willmore suffered exposure whilst a pupil at Bowring Comprehensive School in Merseyside, when the substance was disturbed during work on the school roof.
Although there is no known minimum level of exposure to asbestos below which there is no risk of developing mesothelioma, the defendants argued that the relaxation of the rules for establishing causation that normally apply in such cases was not appropriate where there was only one defendant and the level of the exposure to asbestos was very low. They sought to establish a threshold of exposure that would apply in such cases.
The Supreme Court dismissed these arguments, however. The Court found that there was no justification for changing the current test for determining the liability of a defendant in mesothelioma cases, which is whether or not the claimant has been wrongfully exposed to asbestos, thus creating a ‘material increase in risk’ of them developing the disease. Should there be advances in medical science with regard to mesothelioma, however, the courts might then decide to revert to the conventional causation test if appropriate.
This judgement sets an important precedent for those bringing asbestos-related claims in future, particularly school pupils and teachers who have developed the disease from exposure to asbestos used in school buildings.
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