Asbestos Lawyers Say “Justice is Done” As Court Rules Widow’s Settlement Should Not Be Reduced Because She Too Became ill
Specialist lawyers representing a mum-of-four diagnosed with the same fatal asbestos-related disease that killed her husband, say a landmark Court of Appeal ruling in her favour is a ‘victory for common sense’ after judges told insurers for her husband’s former employers to pay her a full settlement.
Monica Haxton, from Sutton, nursed her husband Ronald for nine months as he battled against mesothelioma – a horrific cancer in the lining of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos dust – until he died the day after his 64th birthday in July 2009.
Tragically in October 2011, just as she was trying to rebuild her life, the 66-year-old was diagnosed with the same incurable disease after inhaling asbestos dust that came off Ronald’s work overalls decades ago as she washed them.
Monica first instructed expert asbestos lawyers at Irwin Mitchell after Ronald’s death who helped secure her a settlement from her husband’s former employers after the company’s insurer admitted full responsibility for his asbestos cancer.
Since contracting mesothelioma herself, Monica is also entitled to a second settlement from the company for the negligent exposure to the deadly dust which caused her own terminal cancer.
However, the company’s insurer claimed that because her life expectancy has been reduced, she should not be entitled to £200,000 of the second settlement which was linked to dependency on her husband and based on a normal life expectancy – a figure the Court of Appeal has now (22nd January 2014) said must be paid.
It had been argued in the High Court that although they admitted full liability for both Monica and her husband’s exposure to asbestos, she should not be allowed a substantial settlement for dependency because her life expectancy is now significantly shorter.
But Monica, who has had to give up her work as ward clerk at St Anthony’s Hospital because of her illness, says that she wanted to fight for the full settlement because she will not live to claim her pension because of the company’s negligence, which she would have saved to provide inheritance for her children.
Now the Court of Appeal has ruled in Monica’s favour with three judges agreeing that there is no basis in law to reduce the payment, which lawyers for Monica say restores fairness to the system and ensures the company is not able to benefit from causing her illness.
Nicola Maier, a specialist asbestos lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Monica said: “This landmark ruling is a restoration of justice for victims of injury and illness. If this appeal had failed, we would have had a system whereby a company was effectively benefitting from negligently exposing Monica to the asbestos which caused her fatal cancer.
“This is an absolutely tragic case and fully demonstrates the devastating consequences exposure to asbestos can have on the wider family. It does not just affect industrial workers.
“Just as Monica was beginning to come to terms with the loss of Ronald and began rebuilding her life, she too was diagnosed with the very same illness that she had watched slowly destroy her husband’s life.
“Monica is undergoing chemotherapy treatment and knows she will need a significant amount of care as her condition deteriorates, but the insurers refused to acknowledge this and agree a fair settlement. They were using the consequences of the company’s own negligence as a reason to try to reduce Monica’s settlement, which is deeply unfair and thankfully common sense has prevailed.
“The tragic circumstances of the case are rare but the fact remains that Monica is entitled to a full settlement, regardless of her life expectancy, as Ronald’s former employers were at fault and negligent in their working conditions which ultimately caused both her husband and Monica herself to suffer mesothelioma.
“We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has ruled in Monica’s favour and set a precedent which will help future similar victims who have suffered a double tragedy through no fault of their own.”
Before his death, Ronald could remember coming into contact with asbestos at the electronics factory in Balham, South London, where he worked from the mid-60s until he retired in 2004, installing electrical equipment. He had to regularly dismantle boilers which were lagged with asbestos and would sometimes spend up to three months working in boiler houses which were always very dusty.
Monica would have to shake the dust out of his overalls before washing them by hand and by machine in later years and there were occasions where the drainage pipes would get clogged with the asbestos dust. Because Ronald was never warned of the potential consequences of contact with asbestos or provided with protective equipment, neither knew how dangerous the dust was.
The grandmother-of-eight said: “Ronald and I were married for 45 years and he worked there for 42 years, but the negligence of that company by failing to protect us from asbestos exposure has ruined both of our lives.
“We were absolutely devastated by Ronald’s diagnosis and I cared for him until his final breath so I know the pain and horror that this terrible disease causes and that I am now suffering. It’s also incredibly hard for my children knowing that they are going to have to watch me deteriorate over the coming months.
“I was determined to fight for justice to the end because neither Ronald nor I had any control over contracting this horrendous disease. His employers had a duty to warn Ronald of the dangers of asbestos exposure and provide him with protective clothing but they failed to do either.
“I am now relieved and have peace of mind that my children and grandchildren will have financial stability after I am gone and I can now concentrate fully on my family and make the most of the time I have left with them. I now finally feel that justice has been done.”
Nicola Maier added: “It is worth remembering that this is the latest in a long line of legal challenges that asbestos victims have faced in recent years. What they really deserve is full and fair financial security for their families.”