Mr Michael O’Brien, 74, from Faversham, Kent, received compensation from Kitsons Thermal Insulation Engineers, after developing asbestos related lung cancer 41 years after leaving the company
Between 1964 and 1978, Michael “Mick” O’Brien was employed as an insulation worker for Kitsons Thermal Insulation Engineers Ltd. He often worked 7 days a week around the country, including in New Scotland Yard’s headquarters in Victoria Street and various London hospitals.
Whilst on site, Mick and his colleagues handled a variety of insulating materials, a number of which contained asbestos. He cut Asbestolux sheets, applied sectional asbestos to pipes, and applied an asbestos finishing coat. He was also sent to work in areas contaminated with old asbestos debris.
Despite this over-exposure, which often saw him covered in asbestos dust in the process, Mick was not provided with any protective breathing equipment to prevent him inhaling the dangerous fibres.
In 1969, regulations were introduced which required employers to protect employees from inhaling asbestos dust, by taking precautions including ensuring that the workplace was properly ventilated, and that all employees were given respiratory equipment – all of which Kitsons failed to do.
In February 2019, Mick experienced a severe shortness of breath. After his breathing declined further, he was finally diagnosed with lung cancer. Mick had been a moderate cigarette smoker before giving up in 2003 but learned that his history of asbestos exposure significantly increased his risk of developing cancer.
Dr Robin Rudd, an asbestos disease expert, confirmed that, even if Mick had not smoked in the past, the extent of his occupational exposure to asbestos alone was sufficient to have caused lung cancer.
In May 2019, Mick pursued a compensation claim. Initially, Kitsons’ insurers admitted a breach in regulation and negligent exposure during the earliest parts of Mick’s employment but denied liability for the later years. They claimed that they had ceased to use asbestos materials and undertook asbestos removal. These claims contradicted engineering evidence that Kitsons were still working with the fibre.
Proceedings began in the specialist asbestos list in the High Court, London in March 2021. After launching two counter-offers in response to the low settlements Kitsons initially proposed, a five-figure settlement was agreed.
The compensation, which has a small reduction to reflect the contributory negligence due to Mick’s smoking and the possible risks incurred whilst working for other employers not sued, will help to fund further specialist treatment which may be required. To protect Mick’s future interests, an agreement was obtained stating the Defendant would fund 65% of the costs of treatment recommended by his oncologist.
Mick worked with law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, who have a specialist team who handle only mesothelioma and other asbestos disease compensation claims, ensuring he got the justice he deserved.
Mr Michael O’Brien said: “This is a welcome step in what has been a long and difficult process following my diagnosis. Whilst no amount of money can make up for what has happened to me because of the asbestos exposure, this settlement will hopefully make things easier.
“I urge anyone who thinks they were exposed to asbestos and may be suffering symptoms of an asbestos related disease to consult a doctor, no matter how long ago the exposure was and, if needed, to speak to a specialist solicitor.
“I hope that we reach a time where other families don’t have to go through what we have.”
Isobel Lovett, a Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen who represented Mick, said: “Every day I deal with cases just like Mick’s where, through no fault of their own, employees have developed debilitating illnesses after negligent exposure to asbestos. Mick’s case demonstrates that stories like this are not isolated incidents and that asbestos-related illnesses are not a thing of the past – they are still impacting families across the country.
“However, Mick’s case also demonstrates that there can be accountability, no matter how much time has passed. People who have been failed by employers deserve justice and support. We do everything in our power to ensure that the lives and suffering of people are not ignored or forgotten.”
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