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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 11:24 GMT
Legal blow to asbestos victims
Building site
Asbestos was used in building materials
Thousands of people who are dying from asbestos-related diseases may not be entitled to compensation following a court ruling on Tuesday.

The Court of Appeal upheld a previous High Court judgement that compensation could not be paid in a case where a worker was exposed to the deadly dust by more than one employer.


This is a bitter blow for thousands of asbestos victims

George Brumwell, UCATT
The appeal was lodged by the widow of a former council worker, Arthur Fairchild, who died from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in 1996.

Mr Fairchild was exposed to substantial quantities of asbestos when he worked for Leeds City Council in the early 1960s and again six years later when he took up a job with a company at another building in the city.

The High Court dismissed the claim for compensation saying that his widow Judith could not prove where her late husband had been working when he contracted the fatal illness.

'Devastating blow'

Lawyers described the Court of Appeals decision to uphold that ruling as a "devastating blow" to victims and their families.

Hundreds of compensation claims have been held up waiting for the Court of Appeal's decision.

Ian McFall, from the law firm Thompsons, said: "Today's ruling means that companies can admit that they have negligently exposed workers - who then develop mesothelioma - to asbestos, yet they can now walk away without having to pay a penny in compensation."

He called on the House of Lords to "unravel this mess" so that victims and their families could receive compensation.

"Insurance companies stand to save tens of millions of pounds whilst victims are potentially left penniless," Mr McFall said.

George Brumwell, general secretary of the building workers' union UCATT denounced the ruling.

"This is a bitter blow for thousands of asbestos victims. The verdict will deny justice and fairness to people with a very nasty disease.

"It lets off scot-free employers who negligently expose workers to this killer dust, just because we can't identify which single fibre has caused the cancer.

"Seeking compensation could now become a desperate search for a nasty needle in the haystack."

The TUC has estimated that asbestos will be responsible for more than 10,000 deaths a year by 2020.

It estimates that a total of 18,000 people have died over the past four years from working with asbestos and the figure is increasing.

Most victims of illnesses associated with the deadly dust come from areas linked to heavy industries such as shipbuilding.

See also:

27 Apr 01 | Health
Asbestos death toll rises
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