Major asbestos claim results from minor electrical works
The long-running case of Southfield School for Girls in the Technology and Construction Court which settled recently, shows how asbestos cases can escalate. It has resulted in the main contractor being sued for nearly £7m inclusive of damages, interests and costs.
Southfield School for Girls in Kettering is typical of many local authority and government buildings which were built in the 1960s using asbestos materials, which the school and local authority knew were still present in the fabric of the building. In 2003, electrical contractor Briggs and Forrester was contracted to undertake relatively minor electrical works, for the sum of £725. The school's architect, PHP, knew that asbestos ceiling tiles would have to be removed for cables to be laid and, as a result, Briggs and Forrester engaged the services of specialist asbestos sub-contractor B&W.
The judge ruled that the subcontractor's actions in removing asbestos tiles from the school led to the widespread contamination of the school with asbestos fibres. Interestingly, the judge found that although there was no formal contract between the main contractor and the sub-contractor, the main contractor was responsible for ensuring good working practices. Briggs and Forrester was granted a full indemnity of 100% and was sued for nearly £7m. Although the school's architect had been aware of the asbestos tiles, the use of a subcontractor meant that the architect was not responsible for the contamination.
Andrew Morgan, a Partner in the Asbestos Claims Department of international law firm Fieldfisher has previously written about the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations. He comments "This case shows the continuing dangers posed by asbestos in public buildings. The actions of the subcontractors caused widespread asbestos contamination. Anyone exposed to that asbestos runs a risk of developing the asbestos cancer of mesothelioma in years to come. It is of little comfort that they might be able to claim compensation if the subcontractor or its insurer remains available to be sued in the future."