Family calls for legal reform for female asbestos disease sufferers

Posted on: 11th February 2021

Female asbestos disease sufferers often are ‘failed by the legal system’ for washing loved-one’s clothes

The daughter of a woman who died from second-hand exposure to asbestos is calling for the justice system to review its treatment of female asbestos disease sufferers.

Rae Wall of Rainham, Essex, is sending a stark warning that the law will not always protect women who suffer from secondary asbestos exposure from washing their husband’s work clothes.

In August 2019, Rae’s mother, Iris Craddock, started to suffer from shortness of breath. She was admitted to hospital in September 2019, and was subsequently diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by breathing in asbestos fibres. She was told she would be unable to receive chemotherapy.

Iris, who lived in Stratford, London, sadly passed away eight months later on 15 May 2020. Her life and her retirement was cut short by the mesothelioma condition.

Iris’ husband, David, worked for the majority of his career, from 1955 through to the early 1990s, in the lagging industry around East London, and was employed by several lagging companies. Iris would shake out his work clothes and wash them, often by hand in the family bath. It is here that she suffered from the fatal exposure to the loose asbestos fibres on David’s work clothes.

Before her death, Iris sought legal advice about pursuing a compensation claim against David’s former employers. Iris’ family are shocked by the legal hurdles they have to overcome to try and recover compensation, including that only the exposure to asbestos that took place after 1965 can be pursued and that relevant public liability insurance for the former employers has to be identified.

The “1965 rule” means that if a woman was only washing her husband’s asbestos contaminated work clothes prior to 1965, her compensation case cannot proceed. Even if there is some exposure to asbestos after 1965, then public liability insurance for a very specific period of time for the company who allowed the man to go home in dusty work clothing has to be identified. In the majority of cases, there is no employer to be pursued, as the companies have long given up business, and no relevant insurance that can be identified.

The “1965 rule” was partly created as the result of an article published on 31 October 1965 by The Times newspaper, in which it was stated asbestos was: “capable of killing not only the exposed workman but also perhaps his womenfolk and even people living near his place of work.”

This article is deemed to have given all employers relevant knowledge that asbestos could be dangerous for family members. However, many employers already knew, or should have known, prior to 1965 that allowing their employees to go home in dusty work clothing was a health hazard for family members, particularly those washing the dusty clothing. Despite that knowledge, the law gives those employers a Defence to the claim if the exposure was before 1965.

Rae, alongside the family’s lawyer, Lorna Webster, is calling for greater awareness around the risks and unfair treatment women are subject to regarding asbestos exposure, particularly those who did not work with it directly, but whose health has been dramatically impacted.

Lorna said:Many people don’t think of the secondary victims of asbestos exposure – this is an insidious and pervasive problem that just isn’t getting enough attention. Although cases of mesothelioma amongst women continue to be diagnosed, there are still many barriers to successfully claiming in a secondary exposure matter. Relevant public insurance has to be identified, which often doesn’t exist. And there is no “Plan B” for a woman to recover compensation if her husband’s former employers cannot be pursued and the relevant insurers cannot be identified. Whilst the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme makes payment to mesothelioma victims if the victim’s former own employer is no longer trading and the relevant insurance cannot be identified, it does not extend to cover women who have developed mesothelioma through washing their husband’s asbestos contaminated work clothes.

“And there is the problem of the “1965 rule”. How is it morally right that one wife who washed her husband’s contaminated work clothing prior to 1965 cannot bring a compensation claim, but another wife who washed similar clothing after 1965 can? The woman is the innocent victim and yet the law fails her if her husband worked with asbestos at the wrong time. Even the woman who washed her husband’s work clothing after 1965 faces huge hurdles in overcoming the insurance requirements to bring a compensation claim. It is often the case that these women are left with no assistance from the law and no compensation for their asbestos condition.

“Women are victims of a broken and backward system and it has to change – discrimination on these grounds is completely unacceptable. They are being punished and families torn apart simply because they helped a loved one by doing the laundry.

“Iris’ family feel the law is very unfair in this area and want to raise awareness in the hope things can be changed for female mesothelioma sufferers caught out by the legal requirements.”

Rae said: “My mum should not have died simply because my dad went to work and she washed his work clothes. Because it is an overalls claim and requires public liability insurance, the law has been against us and others in a similar situation from the start. It’s simply unacceptable and unfair that women are caught out by this law and I want to help mesothelioma victims across the country get justice, which is why I’m working with Lorna and the team at HJA. If we can make people aware of this injustice to female mesothelioma sufferers, we can be a force for change. If we can bring about change and it helps even just one family caught out by the legal requirements, it will be worth it and I can say my mum had a role to play in that change”

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