Asbestos victims win compensation battle

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The Independent Online
The multi-national engineering company T&N yesterday lost its legal attempt to overturn a High Court decision that it must pay a total of pounds 115,000 to two cancer victims who as children played in drifts of asbestos dust around their homes.

Three Court of Appeal judges found that the company, which ran J W Roberts in the Armley district of Leeds until 1959, should have known about the dangers of asbestos dust long before the victims were born.

Evelyn Margereson, 70, was awarded pounds 50,000 by the High Court in Leeds for the death five years ago of her husband, Arthur, who had mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest lining.

June Hancock, 60, who was awarded pounds 65,000, is suffering from the same disease.

Lord Justice Russell said in his judgment that T&N had claimed that they could not have known about the dangers prior to 1933. "The true date was much earlier, certainly long before Mr Margereson's birth date. His activities as a child, therefore, as well as Mrs Hancock's were at a time when the defendants were on actual or constructive notice as to the potential pulmonary damage that exposure to asbestos dust could bring about." The judges refused the company leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

John Pickering, a solicitor representing Mrs Margereson, said that although the judges stressed this was not a test case, it would have an impact on 22 claims that have been lodged with T&N's solicitors.

"Success in this case makes me a good deal more confident about future claims," Mr Pickering said. He added that the judgment was an important ruling in that it was found that injury from asbestos could be foreseen as far back as the turn of the century - not necessarily asbestosis or mesothelioma, but some form of injury to the lungs. "This is a significant development in asbestos law."

A spokesman for T&N plc, parent group of the company which owned the Armley factory before 1959, said: "Although there may be other claims in the future arising out of the Armley factory, it is unlikely there will be many. The financial consequences of this decision, and any such future cases, will be very limited." The company had not yet decided whether to pursue an appeal to the Lords.

Lord Justice Russell said the factory operated from the late 19th century until 1958 making products which needed "very extensive use of asbestos". Evidence was "overwhelming" that asbestos dust was deposited in "enormous quantities" both inside and outside the factory.

William Woodward QC, for T&N, argued that it was not until 1933 that there was knowledge of the potentially dangerous qualities of asbestos. But, the judges said, a Home Office report in 1930 had found that asbestos was linked to many bronchial diseases, and the company owed a duty of care both to employees and people living near by.

Mrs Margereson said:"It's taken six years to get here, and I'm very pleased with the news today.All I hope now is that this will help everybody else in the same position." Mrs Hancock added: "I'm overwhelmed with joy. My thoughts about T&N are unprintable. I think they got their just deserts."