Claimants seeking damages for asbestos-related cancer have had their hopes buoyed by a recent court settlement.
A previous judgment, Fairchild vs Glenhaven, had threatened to nullify claims, when the defendant insurers successfully argued that no claim for asbestos cancer should succeed if the plaintiff was exposed to more than one source of asbestos.
But last week the High Court in Durant vs Parnall & Sons overturned this ruling. Judge Macduff QC decided that the predominate source of exposure in the case was liable.
In a preliminary ruling – no judgment was handed down – Macduff ordered the defendants to pay the full value of undisclosed damages and costs of £140,000, rather than the lesser sum offered by the defendant.
The case was brought by the widow of a man who died of asbestos-related cancer at the age of 46 in 1996. Clive Durant had worked for Parnall & Sons from 1966 to 1973, sawing up sheets of asbestos material.
The court heard it had taken Mrs Durant's lawyers, Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW), three years to identify the defendant's insurer, Zurich. During that time, the defendant company had stopped trading and had no assets.
In his ruling, judge Macduff QC noted that there was evidence that Durant had later suffered additional exposure to asbestos from another party not involved in the court action. But that did not, in his view, affect the predominant exposer's liablity.
Peter Williams, solicitor for Mrs Durant, said this was the first time he was aware of that the matter had come to court since the Fairchild case.
“While I would have preferred a judgment on the issue, I am pleased we were able to resist the pressure and force a full value settlement soon after the start of the hearing,” he said.
The Fairchild decision was based on the fact that claimants with exposure to multiple sources of asbestos would not be able to prove which particular fibre caused their illness. However, it was a fundamental departure from the way mesothelioma cases had been conducted for decades, and it is pending appeal.
In the meantime, says FFW, insurers are routinely using the Fairchild point in any multiple asbestos exposure court case.