'Million To One' Discovery Provides Justice For Birmingham Family After Worker's Asbestos Death

Asbestos Exposure Death


An intensive legal battle to gain justice, following the death of a Great Barr man from asbestos exposure, has finally succeeded in a six figure payout – thanks to an incredible chance discovery.

Specialist work illness lawyers at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors have, since October 2001, worked to gain compensation for the family of Derek Hoult who died in November 2001 aged 64 from mesothelioma. 

The former driver had worked for timber merchants' Rudders & Payne based in Hockley, Birmingham, in the late 1950s and early 1960s delivering asbestos ceiling panels for use in the building industry. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the chest lining, for which there is no cure, in September 2001. He died just two months later and his heartbroken family resolved to continue his fight for justice.

As Mr Hoult's former employers had ceased trading some years ago, attempts were made to track down the defendants' insurers. However after three years, the search had only uncovered an insurance trace which started in 1965, after Derek had stopped working there and it seemed the case would not be able to proceed.

However, a chance discovery more than four years later by Alida Coates from Irwin Mitchell solicitors, changed everything.

Alida explained: "Over the years we had tried everything to discover the identity of the defendants' insurers who would be liable for paying out on the claim.

"Because employer liability insurance wasn't compulsory back in the 1960s when Derek was employed there, we weren't even sure whether the firm had insurance during his employment, let alone who the insurers were.

"We wrote to the Association of British Insurers and even hired an insurance archaeologist – rather like a private investigator – to try to unearth the elusive information we were missing. By October 2004 I sadly had to admit to Derek's wife Gwen and his daughter, Karen Wright that we had nothing further to go on. I hated to admit defeat, but at the time there was really nothing more we could do."

More than four years later, in 2008, Alida was collecting some documents from the office printer when, by chance, she picked up some paperwork belonging to a colleague. On reading it, she discovered to her amazement that the documents, which were part of a completely unrelated claim, contained information which held the key to Mr Hoult's claim.

"I just stood staring at this piece of paper and couldn't quite believe my eyes. It was a million to one chance but it provided me with a link which would ultimately lead to us identifying Zurich as the elusive insurers," said Alida.

"Frustratingly, when we checked our case files, we had originally contacted Zurich but their search had come back negative. This is sadly a not uncommon occurrence. There is such a backlog of data within the insurance industry that at this time the key information had not been entered onto their computer system."

However, one more hurdle awaited Mr Hoult's family. Zurich initially refused to pay out, claiming the legal action was out of time.

Mr Hoult's daughter, Karen Wright explains: "It was such a roller coaster of emotions. It was really frustrating to think that after all Alida's hard work we might end up failing because we hadn't brought the claim within three years of my father’s death. We argued that everything possible had been done to find out who the insurers were and were all set to go to the High Court if necessary to fight our case.

"However, just three weeks before the case was due for trial, Zurich finally backed down and they have now agreed an undisclosed six figure compensation payment in an out of court settlement

"It was a bittersweet moment for me and my Mom, Gwen. Obviously no amount of money can ever bring Dad back, but we feel we finally have justice. I'm a great believer in fate and the strange thing is that the date the information on the insurers was finally discovered was my Dad's birthday!"

Alida commented: "Over the years I've got to know both Karen and Gwen very well. They have both been so committed to gaining justice for Derek and have also become very passionate about raising both awareness and funds for research into a cure for mesothelioma.

"However, I believe that people like Karen and Gwen should not have to battle so hard for justice.  The insurance industry currently has only a voluntary code for tracing insurers so it’s all very hit and miss.  There should be a legal requirement for employers to keep their employers liability certificates for 40 years – something which the Government has recently relaxed. Also, there should be an insurance fund set up – similar to that for uninsured vehicle claims – so that as a last resort, where no insurance can be traced, families can receive the proper compensation they deserve."