Caroline Pinfold, partner in Fieldfisher, and Gemma Scott, Harry Steinberg QC and Michael Rawlinson QC, all barristers at 12 King's Bench Walk, London have brought the first successful asbestos product liability claim in the UK on behalf of the widow of Glyn Francis who died from mesothelioma on 29 November 2012. He was still in employment, aged only 60, when he died.
Many claims have been brought against the manufacturers of asbestos products by their former employees who were exposed to asbestos at work, by family members of employees who were exposed to asbestos brought home on the work clothes of employees, and by people living close to the asbestos factories who contracted asbestos diseases as a result of those exposures. There have been no previous successful claims in the UK arising out of the use of the asbestos products themselves. This is a unique landmark case.
Glyn Francis was exposed to asbestos when cutting and handling Asbestolux boards as a joiner between 1968 and 1980. He was unable to sue his employer because the company had gone out of business and the relevant employers' liability insurers could not be traced. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma just before the introduction of the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payments Scheme, which would now provide some compensation in those circumstances. His widow would have received no compensation at all if this claim had not succeeded.
The claim against Cape Intermediate Holdings limited was complex. The company had a number of subsidiaries in the UK which manufactured and supplied Asbestolux, including Cape Building products, Cape Boards and Panels Limited and Cape Universal Building Products. It was claimed that the company knew that Asbestolux presented a very significant risk to health and life of anyone using this product and that they knew of the risk of asbestos causing mesothelioma from the late 1950s. They knew that warnings about the dangers had to be provided to companies selling their asbestos products to and in the USA from about 1960. They took no steps to warn the companies to whom Asbestolux boards were sold or to any users of the product in the UK until labels were introduced almost 20 years later. They were aware that cutting, drilling and handling Asbestolux would release potentially deadly asbestos fibres, and anyone carrying out these activities needed adequate protection from inhaling the fibres.
Mrs Francis commented " I want to thank you so much for achieving this amazing result. I never thought this would happen, as the liability insurance was not found, but you persevered and ended up with a great result."