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The lasting impact of Asbestos exposure: Margaret’s fight for justice

Earlier this year, Margaret Ward, a retired former factory worker and shop assistant, died of malignant mesothelioma, an incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos dust. Whilst bravely battling her illness, Margaret brought a claim to try and receive reparation for her condition, so that she could cover the costs of her care and provide for her family. Though those who caused her illness were never made to pay, she eventually received compensation under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS). Margaret’s story is important, as it raises issues of lasting significance to others who may be victims of asbestos.

Margaret came to Hodge Jones & Allen following her diagnosis in April, looking to identify where exactly she was exposed to asbestos and whether her former employers could have done more to protect her from it. She told us that she had spent a number of years at two factories on the North East Industrial Estate, Peterlee, working as a machine operative, and believed it was there that she had been exposed to asbestos dust.

To strengthen our evidence against those responsible for these two factories, we appealed to Margaret’s former colleagues. We wanted to obtain details of the working conditions they experienced, the presence of asbestos within the factories and whether there were any measures put in place to limit their exposure to toxic dust and fibres.

Although we uncovered enough evidence to proceed with the case, unfortunately the claims against her former employers did not proceed. The first factory had closed for business and its insurers were untraceable, and the second (now also closed) proved equally difficult to pin down. The second employer’s solicitors argued that we were unable to prove the case against them on the basis of Margaret’s personal evidence, despite her son also giving evidence about the definite use of asbestos in the second factory. A secondary exposure claim also proved untenable, despite evidence that she had washed her son’s overalls while they both worked there. This was rejected as the factory had closed down by the time any public liability insurer would have to respond to such a claim.

As it seemed increasingly unlikely that Margaret would be able to obtain compensation from either former employer, but unwilling to give up without seeking redress, we quickly made a claim on Margaret’s behalf to the DMPS and were informed the application had been successful, shortly before Margaret passed away in August.

Although those responsible for her illness were never held accountable, and so failed to provide any form of compensation – a source of significant distress for those closest to her – the existence of DMPS at least provided a (limited) means of recourse.

Although, unfortunately, one of many such cases to have arisen from exposure to asbestos, Margaret’s story highlights many important issues to be aware of. Firstly, if the claim to the DMPS had not been made during her lifetime, Margaret’s estate would not have received anything at all, due to the fact that she had no dependents. Secondly, the DMPS only covers victims of mesothelioma, meaning that others who have suffered as a result of exposure to asbestos do not get this help. For these individuals, much more needs to be done to ensure they receive their rightful reparation.

Ultimately, Margaret’s story emphasises the importance of coming forward to share information. It is a sad fact that many employers did not do enough to manage the risks of asbestos exposure, despite being aware of the consequences. People are now suffering greatly as a result. The more evidence we can bring against those responsible for causing conditions like Margaret’s, the better chance we will have of claiming fair compensation and helping to ease the distress of the victims and their families.