Lawyer Says Decision Provides Access To Vital Funds For ‘Selfless’ Hospices

Landmark Ruling Stands: Those Responsible For Death Must Contribute To Care Costs


Lawyers say an insurer’s decision to drop an appeal against a landmark court judgment should now clear the way for hospices across the country to secure vital funding for the end of life care of innocent industrial illness victims.

The announcement comes just days before the appeal against a decision by the High Court last year, that ruled the company responsible for the death of James Willson from an asbestos related cancer, should contribute to his hospice care costs.

Today law firm Irwin Mitchell’s Caroline Pinfold, who represented his family in their battle for justice, welcomed the news, and said the decision would provide comfort for many industrial illness sufferers, and their loved ones, and clarity for hospices providing them with terminal care.

A specialist in asbestos related disease, Caroline sees first hand the devastating impact that exposure to the deadly dust can have. She said: “The judgment handed down in August last year which found that the company responsible for Mr Willson’s death must cover all of his hospice care costs has provided much comfort to his family, who remain extremely grateful to those who cared for him.”

In 1951 James Willson, 20, finished his National Service and went to work erecting new boilers at Deptford Power Station where he was regularly exposed to asbestos. More than 50 years on in 2006 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma* and sadly passed away in March 2007 after 23 days at St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney.

“They welcomed the additional care provided at St Joseph’s which helped to ease Mr Willson’s pain, and felt compelled to give something back to the staff who provided so much support. But, like many families, they were restricted by limited funds.

“The work done by hospices across the country is selfless and it is only right that they should be able to recover some costs under circumstances such as this, to ensure that they are able to help many more terminal patients, so in need of their help.”

Mr Willson’s two daughters and a granddaughter had drawn up a rota to provide care to him 24 hours a day after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, but eventually he became too ill to remain at home. His daughter, Catherine Drake, said: “It was important to my family to show how grateful we were to St Joseph’s Hospice, which had provided so much excellent support and comfort for us and my father as his pain became worse towards the end. The hospice staff could not do enough for us all and it seemed unfair the company that caused his suffering did not have to pay the hospice in some way.

“Donations to the Hospice are voluntary but my sister and I were determined to ensure that something was done. We could not be more delighted by the outcome which means that the hospice will recover most of the costs generated while caring for my father and these can now be used to care for someone else.”

The landmark judgment handed down by HH Judge Anthony Thornton QC at the Royal Courts of Justice on 5 August found that the defendant Foster Wheeler Limited which employed Mr Willson when he was exposed to asbestos, should pay the costs for  the care provided by St Joseph's both at the hospice and when he was at home.

Caroline Pinfold said: “There is no doubt that justice has been done and by withdrawing their appeal the defendants must recognise that this landmark decision is right. This decision is welcomed by the family of Mr Willson and other victims of asbestos related diseases, who rely on palliative care to relieve their suffering. It also now provides a legal basis for hospices to be repaid for the tremendously valuable work they do where their care has been needed as a result of someone else’s wrong doing.”

Michael Kerin, Chief Executive for St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney said “ We were delighted that the judge recognised that whilst our work is supported by voluntary donations and open to all, there is a financial cost in providing this care. It seemed only fair that these costs should be repaid in cases such as this to help us to continue to provide the service for others. Despite the delay in payment that their appeal has caused, we welcome this last minute decision by the defendants to accept the landmark judgment against them which will now pave the way for recovery of much needed costs in other cases.”

Note to editors:

Mr Willson was exposed to asbestos whilst working at Deptford Power Station. The insurer in this case was Royal & Sun Alliance.

*Over two thousand people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year; Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure. It does not respond well to treatment, and treatment options are limited. Employers have a duty to take precautions with asbestos. There is no safe type of asbestos, and no safe level of asbestos exposure.