A trio of unforgettable medical student cases based on low exposure to asbestos | Fieldfisher
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A trio of unforgettable medical student cases based on low exposure to asbestos

To mark 40 years since Fieldfisher first fought for a client affected by mesothelioma, the Industrial Disease Team share some of their memorable cases.

My client Steven attended University College Hospital in north London, where he began his dentistry career in 1962. University College Hospital Dental School in Mortimer Market was connected to University College Hospital by underground tunnels.

Steven qualified in 1966 and became a resident house surgeon. Between 1966-68, most days and nights, he would be rushing through the tunnels to get from one department to another and to A&E. 

In his witness statement, Steven remembers the tunnels being extensive and in constant use, 24 hours a day, with people moving from one site to the other on foot and carrying supplies and samples and occasionally transferring patients on trolleys. Various heating pipes were suspended from the ceiling of the tunnels. The pipes were tatty and dusty and it was very common to see pieces of lagging simply hanging down. People carrying boxes or other large objects often collided with and damaged the lagging. Steven was not given any warnings that asbestos was present in these tunnels, nor given any protection.

Steven was married in 1967 and they have four sons. He had always been very active, playing regular sport. He went on to run a successful dental practice with his wife. In 2005, Steven developed a dry cough and later severe breathlessness and was sadly diagnosed with mesothelioma later that year. He had to give up work as the disease progressed.

Around the same time, another client, Oliver, was also training in dentistry at the University of London at Guy's Hospital dental school. He went on to hold a senior position in a prestigious teaching hospital.

Oliver used underground Victorian tunnels containing decrepit pipework to get between the Old Dental School, now demolished, and the Medical School while he was an undergraduate and also during the 1970s when he worked as a medical researcher. Thomas, who was also married with three children, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2006.

And the last of my trio of cases involving medical students was Alex, who trained at Guy's Medical School in the early 1980s. He also regularly used the tunnels underneath the campus containing pipework lagged with asbestos.

Steven, Alex and Oliver suffered from 'low exposure' to asbestos. They did not work with asbestos themselves; they were contaminated only intermittently as they went from one part of the workplace to another; they may not have known they were being exposed at all at the time.

The claimants did not have proof that they had suffered 'substantial' exposure, as would be the case in more common ‘heavy’ exposure asbestos claims where the exposure pre-dates 1965. That year marks the watershed moment when the Sunday Times ran a piece on mesothelioma among the wives of asbestos workers in East London. This brought to public attention the risks of exposure to low levels of asbestos of this kind.

All three clients were highly respected in their fields so I was able to obtain impressive supporting statements from senior medical figures who had been students alongside them.

All three of these cases settled on behalf of the families of these professionals who dedicated their lives to medicine. They began what unfortunately became a steady stream of claims for this type of low exposure. I am regularly approached by other firms for advice in similar cases and have helped another firm succeed in their client's claim just this month.

Read about our claims on behalf of people affected by mesothelioma.