Mesothelioma found not to be foreseeable in recent High Court decision

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The claimant in this case developed mesothelioma and brought a claim against her previous employer alleging that they had exposed her to asbestos at work under the Factories Act 1937 and 1961.

The claimant had worked in a factory that manufactured cigarette papers. The factory generated a large amount of paper dust. The only source of asbestos was from the lagging in the pipes that were suspended above the factory floor. The claimant recalled one occasion where she walked under the pipes when this lagging was damaged and was under repair.

The court found as a fact that her exposure was during the course of her employment in the years 1955 to 1960 and that the exposure was from the pipes.

The court recognised that it was not until 1965 that a medical paper was published recognising the link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.

It found that based on the standards of knowledge at the time of exposure her employers could not have reasonably foreseen the risk to the Claimant. The practices that they used were in line with the recognised practices of the day and that they had not had an opportunity to develop specialist knowledge of their own which would have highlighted the risk. The claim therefore failed.

This decision applies the reasoning in Baker v Quantum Clothing - a Noise Induced Hearing Loss claim which my colleague Karen had previously written an article on.

The courts are finding that in a developing field of knowledge employers are to be judged by standards at the time of exposure and not with the benefit of hindsight.

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