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Landmark Decision

01/01/01

Reception

Industrial Merseyside law
firm in landmark asbestos ruling at The Supreme Court

Judgment sets precedent for thousands of future asbestos-related cases

 

Supreme Court case of Sienkiewicz (Administratrix of the Estate of Enid Costello Deceased) v Greif (UK) Limited

and

Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council v Willmore

 

9 March 2011

 

The Supreme Court today ruled in favour of two Merseyside families seeking compensation for the deaths of their loved ones from small doses of asbestos dust.

The unanimous judgment handed down by the seven judges at the UK's highest court sets a precedent for many thousands of asbestos-related cases likely to be brought before the Courts in the next 10 to 15 years.

The cases relate to Merseyside women Enid Costello and Dianne Willmore, who both died of Mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer, following quite small doses of asbestos dust.

Mrs Costello, who died aged 74 in January 2006, was exposed to asbestos whilst working as an accounts clerk in the offices of Ellesmere Port factory Greif (UK) Limited, between 1966 and 1984.  Greif (UK) Limited had admitted its use of asbestos but denied the breach of a duty of care towards its employees.

Mrs Willmore, who was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in March 2007 at the age of 46, was exposed to asbestos as a pupil at Bowring Comprehensive School in Merseyside. Damages for her illness had been agreed at £240,000, but Knowsley Metropolitan Borough
Council denied that it was liable for failing to take precautions which materially increased the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres at the school. Mrs Willmore died on October 15 2010, the day after a Court of Appeal hearing stated the case should not be overturned. 

Although medically there is no minimum threshold dose of asbestos below which there is no risk of Mesothelioma, the Law Lords were invited to make a decision as to where the legal line should be drawn.

The Supreme Court today ruled that even a slight amount of asbestos exposure will now result in an employer being liable, unless they can demonstrate they have taken all appropriate steps to remove the risk.  The Supreme Court has made it clear this should be an end to the many attempts by the Insurance Industry to dispute mesothelioma claims following earlier Supreme Court rulings - this is an important decision for any persons who have had small doses of asbestos exposure and develop Mesothelioma.

Lord Phillips in the leading Judgment stated "I am in no doubt that the wrongful asbestos exposure to which Mrs Costello was subjected materially increased her risk of contracting mesothelioma".  Lord Brown stated tellingly, "mesothelioma claims must now be considered from the Defendant's standpoint, a lost cause".    

Solicitor Norman Jones, Principal of Norman Jones Solicitors, has over the 30 years' experience in asbestos-related disease cases and
represented the family in the lead appeal case concerning the late Mrs Costello. Mrs Costello had asked her daughter to continue with the case as her health deteriorated.

Speaking after the judgment was handed down, Mr Jones, who is currently President of the Liverpool Law Society and a Merseyside solicitor specialising in industrial cases, said: "The message here is that there is no low level where asbestos is safe. Mesothelioma is at the most serious end of illnesses and people who get it go on to die, there is no getting away from that. This judgment gives the unsuspecting victim who has worked in an environment where they have been exposed to asbestos a chance to be compensated for an illness they have developed through no fault of their own. It is from that point of view a great victory for the common man, and legally it is perhaps the most significant judgment in relation to asbestos cases as it will put an end to these types of challenges and disputes."

Leading barrister and industrial disease specialist Ivan Woolfenden, from Liverpool's Atlantic Chambers, was junior counsel and advised for most of the six year history of the Costelle case.

Mr Woolfenden said: "I would like to pay tribute to the skill and tenacity of Norman Jones in enabling this matter to be pursued to such a satisfactory and just conclusion."

 

Solicitor Ruth Davies of John Pickering and Partners LLP represented the family of Dianne Willmore.