Justice For Devastated Families After Aston University Workers Died From Asbestos-Related Disease

Specialist Industrial Disease Lawyers At Irwin Mitchell Secure Settlements For Families


Andrew Robinson, Press Officer | 0113 218 6463
Industrial illness experts at law firm Irwin Mitchell have secured justice for the families of two former Aston University employees who died of asbestos-related illnesses after being exposed to the deadly material whist working in the same department decades ago.

Valerie White and Robert Burns both worked in the Biological Sciences department at Aston University in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and were exposed to asbestos when visiting the basement areas of the University where pipes lagged with asbestos were prevalent.  The University also used asbestos insulation boards which were cut up on site whilst Mr Burns was present.    

Valerie White, a former secretary, from Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, died in October 2009 aged just 52, after suffering with mesothelioma, a cancer in the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos.

Robert (Bob) Burns, a former Research Laboratory Technician and later Research Laboratory Superintendent and father-of-two, died in September 2010, aged 75, after a short battle with the same illness.  Bob and his wife Jane had relocated to Cockermouth, Cumbria on their retirement.

Asbestos experts at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham and Newcastle offices were instructed by the families of both Valerie and Robert to investigate their loved ones exposure and working conditions and the leading law firm has now secured settlements for Robert’s wife Jane and Valerie’s husband Christopher to provide the families with financial security.

Originally Bob had instructed other solicitors during his lifetime via an organisation advertising itself as a national helpline, but they didn’t take any steps to investigate the case or speak to him or take a statement from him about how he came into contact with asbestos, even though they were instructed by him months before he died.  

His family turned to specialist asbestos lawyers at Irwin Mitchell after Bob’s death when they realised that the claim was going nowhere and their existing lawyers did not have the expertise or experience to deal with this type of case.  

Roger Maddocks, a Partner in Irwin Mitchell’s expert asbestos-related disease team at the firm’s Newcastle office, said: 
Expert Opinion
This case clearly illustrates the difficulties that victims of asbestos-related and other occupational diseases have in finding suitable specialist lawyers to handle their claims.

“Those difficulties are made all the greater by some organisations which appear to be charities or government agencies but are, in fact just a front for claims handlers or solicitors without the appropriate expertise.

“Such organisations do claimants a great disservice. This is by no means an isolated case and we see similar examples regularly when claimants turn to us. This case demonstrates that finding the right lawyer to handle to case can be the crucial in determining whether or not the claim is successful.”
Roger Maddocks, Partner

Kim Barrett, an industrial disease expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office, who worked alongside Roger Maddocks, to successfully conclude the cases, said: “The last few years have been extremely difficult for the families of Robert and Valerie, who have fought tirelessly to see justice done for their loved ones.

“During the course of their employment within the Biological Sciences department of Aston University, Valerie and Bob were both exposed to asbestos, which was present in the laboratories and basements which were used for storage. Asbestos was released into the working environment as dust. Tragically, this exposure to asbestos led to the development of mesothelioma and both of them paid the ultimate price.

“Asbestos-related disease is more commonly associated with people from industrial backgrounds such as ship builders, plumbers, joiners and electricians. But we are sadly seeing an increase in the number of people from other sectors falling victim to mesothelioma, due to its presence in public buildings such as universities and hospitals.

“The dangers of exposure to asbestos have been well known by employers for decades and it is completely unacceptable that workers at the university were simply not protected or warned of the dangers of the dust. We hope this case serves as a reminder that negligence asbestos exposure can have fatal consequences for anyone who is exposed to it.”

Christopher, 61, said: “Valerie’s illness came as such as shock to us and it was heart breaking to see her in pain and watch her strength slowly deteriorate at such a young age, knowing that ultimately there was no cure to the disease.

“Since Valerie died we have been determined to secure justice for her death and we are relieved that our legal team’s persistence paid off having now secured a settlement from Aston University. 

“We hope that this will act as a reminder to employers to protect their workers from exposure to asbestos, so other families do not have watch their loved ones endure so much pain and suffering.”

Jane, who was married to Robert for 42 years, and who met him when they both worked in the Biological Sciences department at Aston University said: “It was devastating to watch my husband go through so much pain in the final years of his life. The fact that he became so ill just from going to work every day is still hard to accept. I am at a complete loss since the death of my soul-mate, which has left a void in my life that has not eased with the passing of time. The last four years since Bob’s death have been a terrible ordeal and I am very glad that the case is now over and the university have had to pay for the suffering they caused, although no amount of money can make up for Bob’s suffering or my loss.

“Our daughters and grandchildren miss him as I do and he will never be replaced in their hearts or mine.”