Mr Percy William Robert Ellis (Deceased), known as Bill to his family and friends, sadly died in January 2003 from a malignant mesothelioma, just after the start of the New Year.
Bill had been employed by Kingston Craftsman Ltd from 1950 - 1981 as a woodworking machinist in their premises, at Clough Road, Hull. The company was a general joinery firm, which also manufactured caravans and pre-fabricated buildings and the site was said to cover approximately two football pitches in size. As a machinist, Bill was required to cut asbestos sheets using a power saw and consequently he was exposed to substantial amounts of asbestos dust and fibres on a regular basis.
Our specialist asbestos team began investigating a legal claim for Bill shortly after he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, but as Kingston Craftsmen had gone out of business in 1995, it was crucial to Bill’s case that the insurers who had provided a policy of employers liability insurance to the company at the time of Bill’s exposure, were found, before the case could be progressed.
A search was initiated via the Association of British insurers and, eventually, one insurer responded. Unfortunately, there was a question as to whether Bill had been exposed during this insurer’s period of cover and so it was felt prudent to also pursue the previous insurers. Although the previous insurer had been named as the Provincial Insurance Company (which was subsequently taken over by Axa Insurance Company Ltd), Axa declined to accept the information provided, saying they had no trace of any policy issued by Provincial and, unless policy numbers or documents could be produced, they would not accept cover.
Although there were difficulties with the evidence over the exposure dates, legal proceedings were commenced at this point in order to protect the claim.
A witness appeal was launched to clarify the dates of Bill’s exposure to asbestos at the company and to see if any information could be found about the company’s insurance history. Finally, and very fortuitously, a witness came forward, who had not only worked for the company at the time Bill had done so, and was able to confirm the length of the exposure period, but who had also sustained an injury at work and had pursued a claim for compensation. The witness had retained correspondence from his case, which included a letter from the Provincial Insurance Company, which proved that it had provided a policy of employer liability insurance to Kingston Craftsman Ltd. Axa Insurance Company conceded that the Provincial had insured the company but would only concede 1 year of cover, in 1975.
At this point, the House of Lords handed down its judgment in the case of Barker v Corus UK PLC, which had a devastating effect on mesothelioma claims and which, if had it remained law, would have meant that Bill’s estate would only have recovered a small percentage of the amount of compensation to which the estate would otherwise have been entitled.
As a result of the outcry following this decision, and the proposed amendment to the Compensation Bill, the case was stayed pending enactment of the amended Bill. Once the Compensation Act came into force on 27th July 2006, the claim was subsequently settled and Bill’s family agreed compensation in full, for a five figure sum.
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