We received instructions from Mrs. I to pursue an asbestos claim for compensation following the sad death of her husband.

Mr. I developed pleural thickening and asbestosis and suffered pain, injury, loss and damage until he sadly died of his asbestos related disease on the 30th October 2013.

Instructions were received to act on behalf of Mrs. I in connection with matters arising out of her late husband’s exposure to asbestos dust and fibre in the course of his employment with the Defendants who were so called “blue water” merchant navy shipping companies. Mrs. I’s claim being for her late husband’s pain, suffering and loss of the amenity, care and assistance pre-death services, loss of services dependency, statutory bereavement award, loss of a husband and funeral expenses.

Mrs. I brought her asbestos compensation claim on behalf of the estate of Mr. I, pursuant to the provisions of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and on behalf of herself, as the widow and dependent of Mr. I, pursuant to the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.

Previous employers

Mr. I was employed by the Defendants and/or their corporate predecessors as follows:

  • 1st Defendant – Mr. I worked aboard vessels owned by Union Castle Mail Steam Ship Company Limited from the 12th August 1959 to 13th April 1962 and from the 15th May 1963 to 24th July 1963.
  • 2nd Defendant – Mr. I worked aboard vessels owned by Port Line Limited from the 25th April 1962 to 26th March 1963.

Asbestos exposure at work

Prior to his death, Mr. I provided great detail of the nature of his exposure to asbestos whilst working aboard various ships. He sailed on a full-time basis with the Defendants and other companies as a greaser. This involved looking after the engine room and as a result Mr. I came into regular contact with airborne asbestos dust.

He sailed on various ships including the Queen Mary, the Invernia and the Highland Monarch but spent the bulk of his time on-board the Durban Castle. He also sailed on the Braemar Castle and Beaverelm vessels.

Whilst aboard the ships, Mr. I spent 4 hours working in the engine room each day and would then spend 8 hours away from that area.

Mr. I recalled that the ships were covered with asbestos lagging which was used as a form of insulation. The asbestos covered various pipes in the engine room where he worked and was regularly removed by fitters, engineers and other workers when attending to repairs.

The asbestos lagging was a greyish colour and Mr. I recalls much asbestos dust and fibres being released into the general atmosphere as workers removed it. He could not help but inhale the dust and fibres in the engine room.

There were usually around 6 to 8 engine rooms in each ship and between 6 and 8 boilers in each boiler room which were below deck and had asbestos lagged pipes leading to them. It was common practice for the asbestos to be removed during routine and emergency repair and maintenance work.

The asbestos dust covered the floor and as Mr. I and his co-workers passed through the engine rooms, dust would be disturbed causing it to be released into the atmosphere.

The working conditions on-board were continuously hot and uncomfortable. There was a severe lack of ventilation. Mr. I remembered seeing asbestos dust floating in the air and escaping this was nigh on impossible. Mr. I had to proceed to the engine room via an air lock, resulting in him being completely locked in the engine room without any ventilation. This resulted in him breathing the harmful asbestos fibres throughout the course of his working hours in the engine room.

Throughout the course of his employment Mr. I confirmed that he was never made aware or warned of the dangers of working with asbestos. He was not provided with any form of mask or protective breathing equipment. Mr. I alleged that he was exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, during the entire course of his employment with the Merchant Navy.

Tracing insurers

Given Mr. I’s Merchant Sailor work history it was necessary to try and obtain details of the companies’ employer’s liability insurers to include ships that Mr. I had served on (Queen Mary/Ivernia/Highland Monarch/M.V. Durban Castle/Port Alfred/Braemar Castle and M.V. Beaverelm). This involved attempting to contact accountancy firms which were involved in the liquidation of companies that employed Mr. I.

It is standard practice in cases such as this to obtain the sufferer’s seaman’s discharge book which details all ships the sailor worked on and this was forwarded to the Defendants’ claims handling agents and, whilst the Defendants accepted that they had employed Mr. I during the periods shown on his discharge book, liability was “emphatically” denied.

Liability was denied emphatically on the basis that no statutory or regulatory provisions applied to pursued Defendants. Negligence was denied emphatically on the basis that the date of knowledge of asbestos risks in the shipping industry was not in the public domain at the relevant times.

At Asbestos Justice we are used to receiving such arguments on asbestos claims. Representatives of the “blue water” shipping companies look to suggest that the “date of guilty” knowledge for such companies was much later than Claimants look to argue. In fact in this case the Defendants looked to argue that their date of guilty knowledge did not crystalize until the 1970s. We continued to maintain throughout that Mr. I was exposed to “substantial” quantities of asbestos dust during the relevant periods and, therefore, liability would attach itself to the companies.

Given the Defendants’ denial of liability on the basis that Mr. I’s period of exposure to asbestos dust during the course of his service in the Merchant Navy from 1959 to 1963 pre-dated the date of ‘guilty knowledge’ in the Blue Shipping Industry, vis-á-vis the dangers of being exposed to asbestos dust, engineering evidence had to be obtained. Issues of breach of statutory duty, negligence, date of knowledge and liability generally were covered in detail.

Engineer’s evidence report

Before the engineer’s report arrived, the Defendants response was to say that the earliest ship owners could have potentially been put on notice regarding the dangers of asbestos was the 1966 Sunday Times article entitled ‘Killer dust’ and as Mr. I had left the shipping industry before such date, liability remained denied.

The engineering evidence proved to be most helpful in that the expert confirmed that Mr. I’s Merchant Navy employers should have been aware of the risks associated with exposure to substantial quantities of asbestos dust and should have been acting to control such risks at the relevant time.

The engineering expert opined that he could see no reason why

  1. Mr. I’s Merchant Navy employers should have had less knowledge of the risks associated to exposure to asbestos dust than land based employers,
  2. such employers should not have been aware of the knowledge that existed regarding asbestos (as was argued by those representing the employers in relation to the periods of Mr. I’s employment in the Merchant Navy) and
  3. that there was, in any event, evidence that at least one of the employers (Union Castle) was explicitly advised of the risks prior to the period of Mr. I’s employment with them

On the 30th October 2013 Mr. I sadly passed away after suffering with a variety of health problems including breathing problems connected to a diagnosis of asbestos related diffuse pleural thickening.

Post mortem evidence report

Asbestos Justice obtained a copy of Mr. I Post Mortem Report dated 9th December 2013 in which the examining pathologist believed that Mr. I’s diagnosed asbestos related condition did play a part in his passing, having reached that view on the basis that there was evidence that Mr. I was suffering with pleural thickening with asbestosis following his investigations.

The instructed medical expert went on to confirm that the asbestos related condition had tragically robbed Mr. I of between 5 and 5.9 years of life.

During 2014 the Defendants advised Mrs. I that her claim remained “emphatically repudiated” on the basis of the absence of ‘guilty knowledge’ concerning asbestos risks in the shipping industry during the material periods of Mr. I’s employment.

Further evidence proves victorious

In order to increase the prospect of success further, Asbestos Justice made contact with other specialist asbestos compensation firms in order to share evidence and information to assist in countering the Defendants’ arguments on lack of ‘guilty knowledge’.

During late 2014, the completed evidence including the engineer’s report was provided to the Defendants in one letter. Asbestos Justice also referred the Defendants to the decision of Senior Master Whitaker in the 2008 case of Purdue v Port Line Limited, in which the Defendants’ arguments on date of “guilty knowledge” failed.

In that case it was the Defendant’s own evidence that the company ran a major office in London until 1972 and had a shore-based ship repairing gang. Mrs. I understood that it was common ground between the parties that employees of shore based ship repairers were protected by the Factories Act 1937.

The Senior Master accepted that Port Line Limited was a shipping company with a shore based operation and therefore the Factories Act 1937 applied. The Defendant’s argument that their shore based gang members were merchant mariners who were simply waiting for a sea going post was rejected. Breach of duty was established as a result at the time of the “show cause” hearing.

As no offer was forthcoming in our own case within a reasonable period of time, court proceedings had to be issued on the 28th January 2015 in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice under the specialist asbestos claim list.

Final battle to victory

Shortly after the issuing of proceedings, the Defendants backed down from their original position and offered Mrs. I £54,000.00 net of apportionment to settle her claim. This offer was was accepted. Clearly, the detailed evidence gathering exercise had reaped dividends for Mrs. I.

This case shows that, providing supportive evidence is obtained in “blue water” shipping cases, there is no reason why asbestos claims involving exposure dating back as far as the 1950s cannot succeed against such companies, even in the face of Defendant arguments made on the date of “guilty knowledge”. They are not immune from the affects of statutory provisions introduced to safeguard employees.

Obtaining asbestos compensation for Mrs I, in what was an extremely difficult case, was most rewarding as we felt that the companies simply had to be held to account for her husband’s tragic passing.

If you have been exposed to asbestos when sailing in the Merchant Navy and want to obtain “no win no fee” advice on pursuing a claim, please look to make contact with Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767

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