High Court ‘Puts Victim First In MoD Asbestos Case’

Family Of Blackburn Woman Win Legal Battle Which Puts Time Limit In Spotlight


By Rob Dixon

A High Court ruling which has seen a Blackburn family gain justice after their mother’s contact with asbestos while working in a factory assembling gas masks has put the focus on the time limit for making claims, according to a leading asbestos lawyer.

The loved ones of Doris Timbrell have been awarded compensation from their mother’s employer the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after winning their legal battle.  Mrs Timbrell had developed asbestosis and pleural plaques after her exposure to asbestos working at Baxters of Blackburn, Lancashire, assembling gas masks in the Second World War.
Despite the MoD admitting they were at fault and that Mrs Timbrell’s illness had been caused by her exposure to asbestos at the factory they continued to defend the claim against them.  They argued that the case should fail because of the delay in making the claim. The legal time limit for making claims like this one is normally three years from being diagnosed with asbestosis.

However, the court ruled in favour of the family, who had explained to the Judge that their mother’s initial decision not to pursue a claim was down to her ill health. Struggling with breathlessness she had felt she was too ill to start a claim against the MoD.

According to Geraldine Coombs, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office who specialises in helping victims and families whose loved ones have been affected by asbestos-related disease, the ruling was very welcome.

Geraldine said:  “It’s vital that families like Mrs Timbrell’s are able to fight back through the courts.  The government says savings in legal costs can be made by victims of asbestos disease resolving their claims without going to court.  Without a trial hearing and the Judge’s backing this family would never have got justice on their mother’s behalf.

 “Mrs Timbrell, who died in 2004, had been part of the country’s war effort.  Decades later she became ill with asbestosis caused by her exposure to asbestos from making gas masks.

“We know that filters in the gas masks contained blue asbestos – the most toxic type of asbestos.  Many former munitions factory works have been affected by asbestos exposure, not just in Lancashire but also in Leeds and Nottingham.” 

Geraldine added: “This case shows that asbestosis cases are not straightforward.  Mrs Timbrell’s employer tried to find a way out of offering financial support to the family by saying the claim was brought to court too late.

“Thankfully the trial Judge said that in this case the time limit should be overlooked.  He accepted that there had been a link between Mrs Timbrell’s delay in making a claim and the impact the illness had on her. The ruling will help others in similar circumstances.”

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