Supreme Court Victory For Asbestos Victims

Legal Experts Say Landmark Judgment Secures Access To Justice For Many Future Sufferers Of Terminal Cancer Mesothelioma


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Lawyers representing the family of an asbestos-related cancer victim who took his case to the Supreme Court say a landmark judgment handed down today (22 October 2014) will protect the rights of future sufferers to receive a fair settlement to provide for their families after their death.

Five judges had examined the case of delivery driver Percy McDonald, from Devon, whose life was tragically cut short by the aggressive terminal cancer mesothelioma, caused by exposure to dangerous asbestos dust decades ago when he regularly visited Battersea Power Station to pick up waste products.

It had previously been argued by the defendant that Percy and his family could not receive compensation because he was not employed by the occupier of the site and because their primary work was not directly involved in the asbestos industry.

However leading industrial disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell who represented Percy’s family after he sadly died just a week before the Supreme Court hearing in February this year, say that today’s ruling in the family’s favour clarifies the law and gives greater protection to current and future victims of industrial diseases and accidents who are simply carrying out their day-to-day jobs.

His son, Eric, who took on the case after his death, said he was pleased that the decision will benefit others, but he wished Percy had been alive to see the final result of his legal battle.

The majority Judgment provides guidance on several key points of law:

  • It establishes that under the Factories Act it is the occupier of the premises which is responsible for the welfare of the people on site, not just those that it directly employs
  • It also states that the Asbestos Industry Regulations apply to all factories using asbestos – not just those involved in the asbestos industry.

The Judgment by the Supreme Court now paves the way for Irwin Mitchell to secure a fair settlement to provide financial support for the family after Percy died through no fault of his own.

Alida Coates, a Partner in the Industrial Disease team at Irwin Mitchell which represented the family, said:

Expert Opinion
This is a victory for all victims of asbestos-related diseases who have been exposed to the deadly dust while visiting factory premises as part of their day-to-day job. It also extends the scope of the Factories Act to assist those injured during their work on factory sites. It makes perfectly clear that the occupiers of the factory building have responsibility for protecting people engaged in processes on their site, not just their direct employees.

“This judgment will not only provide reassurance for those who are currently in a similar situation and are also suffering from mesothelioma or other industrial diseases, but also the many people who will receive the devastating news in future that they have contracted the terminal cancer as a result of exposure decades ago.

“This case is the latest in a long line of challenges over the past few years as insurers have sought to limit access to justice for victims of asbestos diseases. This Judgment will give all people who work on factory sites additional protection in their working environment. At a time when the current Government seem set on eroding the protection offered to people at work, it is refreshing to note that the Judges in the Supreme Court take the protection of workers seriously.”
Alida Coates, Partner

Mesothelioma is a terminal cancer caused by exposure to harmful asbestos dust but the symptoms usually take at least 30 years before they develop. Although its use is now illegal in the UK, it was once a popular construction material and has affected thousands of people over the past few decades. More than 2,500 people currently die from mesothelioma each year, a figure which is expected to peak before 2020.

Eric said: “As a family we wanted to carry on the case after Dad’s death because we knew how important it was to him and wanted to ensure that others would be protected in future. It was only because he went to work every day that he became ill, and that was extremely difficult for us to come to terms with.

“I’m really pleased with the Supreme Court’s Judgment and thank the judges for taking the time to hear our case. I’ve seen first-hand how devastating mesothelioma can be and we were all distraught when Dad died, especially as he didn’t get to finish what he started in the courts.

“We would rather have Dad with us still, but hopefully other people affected will now be able to succeed in their legal battles too.”


Percy McDonald was a lorry driver employed by Building Research Establishment from 1954 to  1959. He had to collect the waste products from Battersea Power Station.

Between 1954 and January 1957 he drove to Battersea twice per month to collect pulverised fuel ash (PFA), then between 1957 to 1959 he went around twice every three months.

While he waited to collect his load he often went into the turbine halls where laggers were working with and mixing asbestos and it is here it is alleged he was exposed to the harmful dust.

The original trial was heard in May 2013 in Bristol with the judgment handed down in June that year dismissing the claim.  Mr McDonald appealed that decision.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal which was successful – but the Occupier of the site then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Mr McDonald died on 5 February 2014 – a week before the Supreme Court hearing which heard both appeals a week later after his family took forward the case.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos, our expert mesothelioma lawyers could help you claim compensation. See our Asbestos-Related Disease Claims Guide for more information.