Asbestos-related diseases commonly develop decades after exposure but that in no way prevents the pursuit of justice on behalf of victims or their loved ones. In one case, a judge delved far back into the industrial past in awarding six-figure damages to the family of a deceased pipe fitter.
The man died at the age of 81 from mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs almost invariably associated with asbestos exposure. He was the sole carer for his wife, who was in poor health. His daughter launched proceedings, seeking damages for his widow and on behalf of his estate.
In the month prior to his death, he made a sworn statement referring to a period of a few months in 1966/67 when he was engaged in refurbishment of an industrial plant. He said that he worked in close proximity to a team of pipe laggers as they stripped out asbestos insulation. He described how, at the end of a typical day, his work clothes, hair and face would be covered in white asbestos dust.
In upholding his daughter's claim, the judge found that, although the man was recounting his memory of events more than 50 years in the past, his evidence was broadly reliable. His recollection of working close to the laggers was entirely plausible and the dust he described was likely to be asbestos-based material.
His employer at the time, together with the occupier of the plant, acknowledged that, if the man's evidence were accepted, a clear breach of duty was established. They were ordered to pay £180,000 in damages after the judge found that the man's exposure to asbestos at the plant had materially increased the risk that he would develop mesothelioma in later life.