It is unfortunate in our role as specialist asbestos solicitors that we are regularly contacted by retired workers and their families to pursue claims for compensation following receipt of the devastating news of a diagnosis of incurable mesothelioma.
This month marks the first anniversary of one of the most tragic mesothelioma claims we have ever concluded.
We were instructed by Mrs R to pursue a claim for mesothelioma compensation following the tragic loss of her young son, Aaron, who passed away at the tender age of 22 on 4th December 2011 in Spain where the family formerly resided.
Aaron suffered with symptoms affecting his chest and shoulder for only 8 weeks before he sadly passed away suddenly due to the incurable asbestos related condition.
The only evidence of asbestos exposure we were able to obtain related to asbestos dust exposure from Aaron’s birth father’s contaminated work clothes.
Summer 1989 to the July of 1991 approximately
During this time, Mrs R resided with her former partner, Mr H and their newly born son Aaron on a housing estate in Kettering.
Throughout the course of this period, Mr H worked for a construction firm called Tarmac Homes (Midlands) Limited which he believed to have formed part of the Tarmac Group. We uncovered that the company’s liabilities transferred to the well known building firm, George Wimpey/Carillion PLC.
It was alleged that the deceased’s birth father worked full time for the company, working a 5 day working week and would usually complete an 8 or 9 hour working day with a short break in the morning, half an hour for lunch, as well as a short break in the afternoon.
To assist in recovering mesothelioma compensation on behalf of the family, evidence was taken from Mr. H., who confirmed,
“During this time, I resided with my former partner and our newly born son Aaron on Almond Road in Kettering.
Throughout the course of this period, I worked for a construction firm called Tarmac Homes Midlands Limited which I believed formed part of the Tarmac Group.
I either heard that Tarmac were looking for bricklayers to work on the Avondale housing estate in Kettering in the local paper or in the job centre. I decided to visit the site agent at the Avondale site in order to ask if they would take me on. I was pleased to note that they said I could work on the contract. I gave them my full details including my national insurance number and as far as I was aware, I was placed on the company books.
I have seen my HMRC schedule of employment dated 30th April 2012 and cannot understand why there is no reference to Tarmac on this document. They were my employers as far as I was aware up until 1991 approximately.
I worked full-time for the company, working a 5 day working week and would usually complete an 8 or 9 hour working day with a short break in the morning, half an hour for lunch, as well as a short break in the afternoon.
The work involved working on one housing estate throughout the course of my period of employment with Tarmac. The housing estate was the “Avondale Estate” based in Kettering where numerous council houses were in the process of being fully refurbished.
I was paid by the company every Friday, usually by cheque which was placed in a white envelope or occasionally directly through the bank. I was paid varying rates depending on what I had done over the working week. Sometimes I would be paid what was known as a “day rate” and other times I would be paid on a “piece work” basis which involved me having to note down each and every bit of work I had done. I was never told that I was working on a self-employed basis.”
This evidence created problems as Mr H’s work history did not formally show that he was working with Tarmac at the time the family resided at the housing estate. It is usual in a mesothelioma claim to obtain a worker’s Inland Revenue work history which reveals all of their employers dating back to 1960.
Thankfully, the witness was able to provide further information to assist in recovering the mesothelioma compensation.
He believed the houses on the estate to have been built following the Second World War and alleged that asbestos products formed part of their construction. He stated,
“I am aware that asbestos was used as a form of soffit board behind the exterior walls within council properties at that time. Insulation boards containing asbestos were also present behind the walls and ceilings within the council houses. The guttering would also have been made out of asbestos materials in those days.”
The large refurbishment contract at Avondale involved completely renovating hundreds of council properties.
Mr H’s main role involved general brick work and pointing in the main although it was a common occurrence for him to be present within the various houses when other tradesmen carried out their work, as part of the extensive refurbishment. He stated that he was given his instructions by supervisors for Tarmac.
He would often go into the council properties in order to make a drink or to discuss various things with colleagues who were in the process of carrying out their own duties.
He remembered in particular, a number of Tarmac workers; including carpenters and plasterers, as well as general labourers completely ripping back the walls of various rooms within the council owned properties. They would also be in the process of demolishing the ceilings.
When ripping back the walls and ceilings, they would then have to remove insulation boards that were fitted behind for fireproofing purposes. He believed these to have contained asbestos. When the workers removed the plaster and insulation boards, much dust would be released into the environment of each property which blew around the houses and out of the windows.
Mr. H remembered seeing the soffit boards which were on the outside of each building which had to be removed in order to allow for works to be carried out on fascias, soffits and roofing.
He described the soffit boards in his statement,
“They were of a whitish, greyish colouration. When they removed the asbestos boards which were often in a brittle, damaged state, much asbestos dust would be released into the atmosphere. I would be positioned a matter of feet away carrying out my work when this was done.”
The atmosphere within the council houses and outside them was always dusty, some of which was asbestos dust which covered his work clothes. The dust would blow out from the various windows of the council house properties and covered him when he was carrying out his work outside. Some of this dust was asbestos dust from the interior of the properties.
Mr. H added that he would also be nearby on occasion when asbestos guttering was in the process of being taken down or demolished by Tarmac workers. As this was done, further asbestos dust would be released into the general atmosphere which he alleged covered his work clothes.
The tragedy lies in the fact that Mr H confirmed that he would always return home at the end of every working day on the Avondale contract in an extremely dusty state, some of this dust will have been asbestos dust.Upon returning home, he would regularly hold his young son which horrifically led to him breathing in harmful asbestos fibres which had contaminated his father’s work clothes.
Aaron’s mother could also remember the renovation works being carried out on the Avondale estate during the relevant period. She stated,
“I can remember the houses being completely rewired and re-plastered. They had new kitchens and bathrooms. New staircases were put into the properties. Many of the houses were old and had outside toilets and those properties were updated. The houses were being completely gutted. The walls would be stripped right down to allow for new boards to be put up which would be plastered over. New plumbing was put in. There was a real hive of activity on the estate at the time.”
Mrs R also recounted the circumstances of her ex-partner returning home in his dust covered work clothes,
“When Aaron was born, my ex-husband was so proud and would always be keen to hold him as soon as he returned from his day’s work. I would always get annoyed with him when he insisted on holding Aaron in such a dusty state and would usually shout at him to get in the shower. It was a common occurrence for him to hold our son on an almost daily basis during the early years. He would hold him for 10 to 15 minutes usually and would then give him his fifth or sixth formula feed of the day. He would then put Aaron down and get into the shower.”
She also remembered shaking out the contaminated work clothes to be washed once a week on average.
Evidence was secured from the local council showing that the houses on the estate were of pre and post Second World War construction, which gave credence to the argument that the properties will have contained a variety of harmful asbestos materials.
The fact that Aaron’s exposure occurred after 1965 also strengthened the case for mesothelioma compensation as legal decisions in the field of asbestos litigation have shown that, providing more than very minimal exposure to asbestos dust is established beyond this date, liability can be established with the offending, polluting party being found to be negligent.
We managed to obtain medical evidence in support of the mesothelioma claim which showed that the asbestos exposure Aaron experienced when he was a child materially contributed to the risk of him developing mesothelioma and the case succeeded after multiple arguments were raised by the Defendant who doubted that Mr H was ever an employee of Tarmac.
Our arguments on liability were two pronged however, in that we argued that Tarmac owed Mr. H and his son a duty of care as members of the public to ensure that they did not expose them to harmful amounts of asbestos dust. Clearly, in this case they did not as the evidence showed that there were no on-site policies to guard against the spread of asbestos dust.
There have been many examples over the years where wives have had the misfortune of developing asbestos related mesothelioma following low level exposure to asbestos dust, the so called, secondary asbestos exposure cases. Aaron’s case highlights the reality and cruelty of historic asbestos usage in that all family members of a person who came to be exposed to asbestos may be at risk of developing mesothelioma in the future. Thankfully, the asbestos cancer is relatively rare with around 2000 people each year being diagnosed with the condition.
The tragic loss of Aaron will never be forgotten by all who represented his family here at Asbestos Justice.
If you, a family member or colleague are concerned over asbestos exposure, contact Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767 for expert legal advice.