Asbestos cancer pensioner wins compensation battle

A pensioner ravaged by cancer due to asbestos exposure 50 years ago has won a £145,000 damages payout at London's High Court.

Colin Gardner, 66, of Fairburn, Leeds, has undergone 12 months intensive chemotherapy and experimental surgery to combat the cancer raging through his body.

But he was unable to attend court because doctors are investigating whether his mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining of the lungs notorious for its slowness to develop and the agony endured by its victims – has returned.

His daughter, Angela Allan-Burns, from Worsley, Manchester, said outside court that he had been given a stark choice after he was diagnosed with the cancer in November 2007.

Asbestos

He could either have awaited the inevitable outcome of the incurable lung cancer or embark on a traumatic course of chemotherapy and experimental surgery to prolong his days and give him more "quality of life".

But, a year down the line, Mr Gardner's family now fears the cancer may have returned – perhaps spreading to his stomach.

Mr Gardner's disease is the legacy of exposure to asbestos dust during his work as a young plumbing apprentice for Huddersfield-based C Watson and Sons Ltd between 1957 and 1961, Judge Sir Robert Nelson heard.

He had to bring his case to court because insurance giants, Royal and Sun Alliance Insurance plc, disputed claims that they were the company's insurers in the late 1950s and early '60s.

But the judge accepted "compelling" evidence from C Watson and Sons Ltd's executive director Craig Watson who said the firm had been insured "for yonks" by Royal and Sun Alliance, or its predecessors. Mr Watson's evidence was backed up by an insurance broker.

Sir Robert ordered the insurance company to pay Mr Gardner 145,000 damages, plus his legal costs, estimated at more than 40,000.

Ms Allan-Burns said outside court that she felt angry with the insurers, who she accused of "trying to get out of their responsibilities when they have had their premiums".

However, Sir Robert said Royal and Sun Alliance had been entitled to defend the case.

Ian Bailey, a partner and industrial disease expert at the Leeds office of national law firm Irwin Mitchell, is representing Mr Gardner in his claim.

He said: "Mr Gardner is very seriously ill and his condition has not been helped by having to endure a fight through the courts in an attempt to prove the identity of his employer's insurers. He has thankfully succeeded in his efforts, but this issue will continue to impact others in the future if the law is not changed."

He said the case illustrated flaws in the Government's recent relaxation of laws forcing companies to keep employers liability insurance details for 40 years.

He added: "These kinds of asbestos-related illnesses can take up to 60 years to develop and this case shows how backward a step it was to scrap the requirement for the insurance information to be retained for at least 40 years. Alongside a database of insurance details, we want to see the creation of a central fund established by the insurance industry to come to the aid of workers like Mr Gardner, where insurance details no longer exist. Without these in place we'll see more and more cases where men and women whose lives are devastated by this disease are denied the compensation which they need and deserve."

Slow killer that will hit thousands

Mesothelioma is a fatal cancer of the lung lining (the pleura) which develops as a result of inhaling asbestos dust.

It can take between 10 and 60 years to develop after exposure to asbestos.

Victims suffer a painful death, on average, within a year or so

of diagnosis.

Unlike other asbestos-related conditions it can occur after exposure to minimal levels of dust.

Currently almost 2,000 people die from mesothelioma every year in the UK.

The number of people suffering from mesothelioma is expected to increase significantly over the next 10-15 years.

A total of 65,000 people are expected to die of mesothelioma in the UK between 2002 and 2050, and 250,000 in Western Europe by 2035.

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