Herts Family Win Landmark Asbestos Case

12 March 2014, 06:00 | Updated: 12 March 2014, 11:40

A firm which ran an asbestos factory in Watford has lost it's battle against a Bedfordshire family who claimed the wife of a man who occasionally worked there - and who washed her husband's overalls was responsible ultimately for her contracting a fatal asbestos related cancer.

Cape Intermediate Holdings Plc forced to take responsibility for death of wife who washed husband's overalls exposing her to deadly asbestos.

In a landmark case the parent company is forced to take on the responsibility of its subsidiary company that no longer exists.

Mrs Margaret Scorer died from mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos related cancer having not worked with asbestos during her working life.

Husband, Mr Scorer had worked as a testing machine engineer from 1972 with the company, Avery Denison. Whilst he was working for this company (late 70's/early 80's) he was sent to the Cape Asbestos Factory on Tolpits Lane in Watford by his employer to calibrate and service the destructive asbestos testing machine at the factory.

Mr Scorer remembered the factory being very dusty when he was there. He was required to attend the factory for a few days every 3 months over the course of approximately 4 years. He was not given health and safety advice and in particular warned of the dangers of asbestos by his employer or by the asbestos factory. He remembered his overalls being covered in asbestos dust when he brought them home for his wife to wash.

Mrs Scorer shook her husband's overalls before washing them. This was the only exposure she could recall. Unfortunately, after a long battle with her illness (almost 2 years) she died on the 11 April 2012. 

The link between this fatal cancer and asbestos dust being brought home to be laundered had been known for many years, as early as 1965. Even though the dangers were well known the case was strongly contested by Cape and Avery Denison.

The company that operated the Cape Asbestos factory no longer existed. Mrs Scorer's son (as executor to her estate), brought a claim against his father's employer and also against the parent company (which had overall control over the factory), Cape Intermediate Holdings plc. Incidentally this company was the second largest asbestos manufacturer in the UK.

Cape relied on a large amount of disclosed material which purported to paint a picture of a very clean working environment. They suggested that any exposure to Mr Scorer was well within the HSE control limits set at the time. Witness statements obtained on the family's behalf described particularly dusty working conditions.

Mrs Scorer's son obtained a substantial settlement from both Defendants a week before the case had been listed for a 3 day trial in the High Court in London. The case had been listed as a category A trial as it dealt with issues of public importance and was due to be heard on the 24 February 2014.

This was a ground breaking case as the employer's duty extended to advise/warn its employees (of the dangers of taking asbestos home) even when the employee was working at another's premises. In addition, owners/occupiers of premises (or their parent company in this case) have a duty to advise/warn visitors and contractors working at their site. 

Dushal Mehta conducted the case for the family and said: "I am pleased that we were able to secure justice for the family. Cape and Avery Denison fought the case long and hard. If only they had advised Mr Scorer not to take his overalls home to be cleaned this sad and untimely loss of life could have been avoided. The dangers were well known by this time. Throughout the case, the family have only wanted to obtain some recognition for her death. This was never about securing financial compensation for them. They have acted with great dignity throughout the case."

Cape Intermediate Holdings plc have not responded after three days to Heart of requests to offer an explanation or provide a response.

Read more about Dushal Mehta HERE