Merchant seaman recovers damages for 6 hour exposure to asbestos | Asbestos on merchant marine ships | Fieldfisher
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Case Study

Merchant seaman recovers damages for 6 hour exposure to asbestos

Dushal was instructed to bring a claim for Mr M who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mr M was an ex merchant seaman. After his time at sea he held a variety of jobs including managerial positions in banks, working as a consultant at the National Maritime Museum and a clerical officer for HM Revenue and Customs. In the early years he spent a considerable period of time in the merchant navy as a chief deck officer.

Mr M was married and had grown up children. His wife was still working as a lawyer at the time of his diagnosis. When Dushal went to see Mr M at his home, Mr M was clear and concise about the one time he recalled being exposed to asbestos. Between 1976 and 1982, Mr M was employed by a multinational oil company as a deck officer on various ships operating on the North Sea oil trade routes. Amongst other vessels, he worked on the ‘Aberdeen’ and the ‘Warwickshire’. Mr M provided Dushal with his seaman’s discharge book which detailed the various vessels he worked on. Dushal was also able to obtain the missing seaman’s records from the Lloyds Shipping Register.

On one occasion in about 1978/79, Mr M was in the course of his work serving on board one of the vessels on route between Southampton and the Brent spar oil storage buoy in the North Sea. In the southern North Sea the vessel’s high pressure turbine became defective and over a period of about 6 hours a number of members of the crew including Mr M were required to remove insulation from pipes and turbine casings in the engine room of the vessel. The work was done using cutting tools, hammers and chisels and the insulation was pulled off by hand and placed in bags. The insulation was up to 12 inches thick. The work was done in an enclosed engine room without ventilation or protective respiratory devices. Mr M was required to help out with the removal of the insulation as it was an emergency situation. This was not part of his duties as a deck officer.
He was also given assurances by the vessel’s chief engineer that it was not blue asbestos and that it was safe to work/handle.

This was the only time that Mr M recalled coming into contact with asbestos.
Shortly after meeting with Mr M, Dushal obtained supportive medical evidence. The leading medical expert in the field of asbestos disease, Dr R M Rudd concluded that the insulation was likely to be brown asbestos and the exposure over the 6 hours was likely to have increased Mr M’s risk of developing mesothelioma above the risk to the general population. 

The multinational oil company did not produce any evidence to defend the claim however, they did want to ask Mr M some questions about the exposure on the vessel and also ask him to comment on some of the entries made in his medical records. They did not dispute Mr M’s diagnosis or that the emergency situation occurred on that vessel but they did wish to clarify the circumstances of the exposure in that emergency situation and also clarify some of the medical notes.

Unfortunately, there were a number of medical records which incorrectly reflected the information that Mr M had given to his doctors and consultants about his asbestos exposure. From the time that Mr M was being investigated for his illness and from the first time that it was suggested to him that he may have an asbestos disease, he had always maintained that he could only recall one occasion when he was exposed to asbestos. However, this information had been incorrectly recorded in various medical entries. Some of those entries gave the impression that Mr M may have been exposed elsewhere either in the merchant navy or in other employment.

This resulted in the Defendant wanting to take Mr M’s evidence. Dushal immediately issued court proceedings and within a very short period of time Dushal arranged for Mr M’s evidence to be taken at his home. Mr M provided a clear account of the emergency situation on board the vessel and the way he was exposed to asbestos for those 6 hours. He also confirmed what he had said to the various consultants and doctors throughout his investigations. After Mr M had given his evidence, a transcript and video recording was sent to the Judge for him to consider prior to the hearing which Dushal had arranged soon after Mr M’s evidence had been taken. At that hearing, the Judge was satisfied that Mr M had proved his case and as the Defendant did not have any evidence to put forward he entered judgment in Mr M’s favour with the level of damages to be assessed at a future hearing. 

Shortly after the hearing, Dushal was able to settle Mr M’s claim for damages in the sum of £160,000. Despite the difficulties with the Defendant and the need for Mr M’s evidence to be taken at his home, Dushal was still able to resolve Mr M’s claim within 6 months.

The damages allowed Mrs M to take a break from her job to spend time with and care for her husband. Unfortunately, following the diagnosis Mr M was not able to enjoy the many pastimes that he had particularly sailing. Mr and Mrs M had a boat which they sailed regularly. As a result of the illness, Mr M had to employ others to maintain his boat and was having to consider selling it.

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For further information about mesothelioma claims, please call Dushal Mehta on 03304606751 or email


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