Cancer sufferer awarded pounds 65,000 in asbestos test case

Industrial damages: Court victory for dying woman and victim's widow may lead to hundreds of claims against manufacturers
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The Independent Online

A woman who contracted cancer after living close to an asbestos factory more than forty years ago yesterday won pounds 65,000 compensation in an important test case that is likely to lead to hundreds of further claims for damages.

A second woman was awarded pounds 50,000 compensation from the same asbestos manufacturers for the death of her husband who died from cancer after playing when he was a child outside the factory in Leeds.

The judge ruled that the factory owners should have known of the risks the asbestos dust posed to the children who used to play in the particles which filled the surrounding streets and schoolyard, and threw asbestos "snowballs".

In a written judgement at Leeds High Court, Mr Justice Holland said that June Hancock, who is dying from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, was entitled to pounds 65,000 compensation from factory owner, J W Roberts, now owned by the multinational, Turner & Newall.

He said that Evelyn Margereson, 69, whose husband, Arthur, died aged 66 from the disease in 1991, was entitled to pounds 50,000.

The judge's ruling said the company owed a duty of care to the children.

The judge said: "At all material times there was knowledge, sufficient to found reasonable foresight on the part of the defendants, that children were particularly vulnerable to personal injury arising out of the inhalation of asbestos dust."

T&N was accused by the judge of trying to obstruct the legal action and to wear Mrs Hancock and Mrs Margereson down "by attrition".

At least 40 people who used to live near the factory in Armley are now expected to claim compensation.

The company said later it was considering an appeal against the decision.

Mrs Hancock played in and around the factory between 1938 and 1951 She was diagnosed as suffering from mesothelioma in 1994 and was told she had two years to live.

Mrs Hancock, who lives in Leeds, and Mrs Margereson claimed that the company, a subsidiary of T&N which was then the world's largest manufacturer of asbestos, knew or should have known the dangers.

A statement from T&N said: "T&N believes the judge was wrong to find T&N liable in these cases."

T&N is no longer involved in the production of asbestos. However it set aside pounds 150m in contingency funds to deal with asbestos-linked claims.

It was conceded before the trial that Mrs Hancock's and Mr Margereson's illnesses were caused by asbestos from the factory, but any compensation depended on proving that the company knew or should have known the dangers the dust could cause.

Lawyers said yesterday that the judgement would make it far easier for people to make successful claims for damages in similar conditions throughout the country. T&N had three other large factories in Manchester, Tyneside and Rochdale.

However, T&N is an extremely large company and it remains to be seen how claims involving much smaller asbestos manufacturers will fair.