May 2023 marks 40 years of Fieldfisher's asbestos claims practice
In May 1983, Rodney Nelson-Jones took on our first asbestos case and, ever since, asbestos litigation has been at the heart of our Personal Injury practice. Rodney went on to win the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers' (APIL) award for outstanding achievement in 2002.
The early cases resulted from the relentless work of campaigners such as Nancy Tait to raise awareness of mesothelioma and to encourage those affected to demand justice and seek compensation. Nancy's husband died in 1969 following exposure to asbestos while working for the General Post Office. No one predicted that, 50 years later, we would still be battling the consequences of employers exposing their workers to asbestos dust.
Since the 1930s, workers at Cape Asbestos in Barking and at Turner & Newall in Manchester worked with raw asbestos materials. Laggers were mixing lethal asbestos insulation in oil drums with their bare hands and pasting it onto pipework and boilers, and the men in the shipyards at Tyneside, Birkenhead, Chatham, Devonport and London were working in the asbestos-riddled boiler rooms of vessels of the Royal Navy and merchant shipping fleets.
In the 1950s and 1960s, dockers in London and Liverpool unloaded sacks of raw asbestos cargo shipped from South African and Canadian mines and laggers and pipefitters worked in a haze of asbestos used as insulation during the boom in construction of power stations.
Years later, all this exposure culminated in terrible injury and loss and an endless stream of claims. The common refrain from those suffering from crippling disease decades later was "I didn't know", "I was just doing my job", "Nobody told me", even though the dangers of asbestos had been recognised since the 1930s.
As the numbers of those suffering from asbestosis and mesothelioma grew and the true scale of the disaster emerged, Fieldfisher acted for yet more individuals and families whose lives had been shattered. We fought the government and the insurance industry, reeling in shock at the sheer volume of claims and desperate to reduce its outlay.
We demanded full compensation for our clients and, along the way, built a database of the 3,000 companies and insurers we have brought to account.
Key milestones in our asbestos litigation include travelling to Chase Manhattan Bank in New York in the early 90s to retrieve Turner & Newall's archive, which proved they knew the dangers long ago. Similarly, in the first product liability claim against Cape Asbestos, disclosure revealed they knew the real dangers of asbestos far earlier than was admitted publicly.
In Fairchild, we were part of the team that successfully battled the insurance industry that sought to halt mesothelioma claims for good; in Phipps, we compelled insurers to pay their rightful share of damages, and more recently in Head, we obtained one of the largest mesothelioma awards ever at £2.6m.
The team helped set up the speedy Mesothelioma Fast Track process in the High Court in 2002 to deliver swift compensation to victims of mesothelioma, especially those with a short life expectancy. We campaigned to establish the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payments scheme alongside APIL.
More recently, we were the first to demand companies and their insurers pay for hospice care of those suffering from mesothelioma. We were the first to obtain a court order for future funding for expensive immunotherapy treatment and brought a landmark case against BT where the claimant's interpretation of an immunotherapy agreement was challenged by the employer, but upheld by the court.
The number of hidden documents that have emerged from our involvement in litigation is staggering:
- the Cape Scheme of Arrangement details Cape's subsidiaries, factories, operations and insurance arrangement across the globe;
- the Concept 70 papers lay bare Cape's historic knowledge of the risks of using asbestos and asbestos products;
- the Marley papers established the floor tiles contained asbestos despite company denials;
- countless Freedom of Information disclosure exercises that have proved vital to so many cases.
Our extensive experience also allows us to help other solicitors and law firms pursue their own cases. Another firm recently settled a mesothelioma claim against Guys hospital, relying on the evidence we obtained years ago in similar cases where we were able to obtain permission from our original witnesses to release their statements.
Through all the lobbying and campaigning, our clients remain our first priority. We have seen their stories change over time. Now we see office workers, teachers, nurses, and doctors struck down having worked in buildings containing asbestos materials. We see carpenters who sawed Asbestolux sheeting to build housing in the early 70s and we see the women and children exposed at home to asbestos brought home on their father's and husband's work clothes. We see people who have developed mesothelioma by simply living next to an asbestos factory.
Over the past 40 years, we have recovered more than £300 million in thousands of cases and have raised thousands of pounds for mesothelioma charities and to help fund research. We are proud of our heritage and we pay tribute to every one of our clients and their families. We celebrate the part we play in easing the financial burden of this terrible disease.
Over the page, you can read about some of our client successes and about our achievements alongside our campaigning partners: APIL, Mesothelioma UK, HASAG and GMAVSG, Disability First, Cheshire Asbestos Victims Support Group.
The work continues.
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