The long wait is over…
In 2004, Terry Henderson of South Shields, Tyne & Wear was diagnosed with asbestos related pleural plaques .
Pleural plaques are benign and rarely produce any symptoms. Nevertheless, at that time, the Court recognised the anxiety associated with such a diagnosis and allowed those who had the condition to pursue a claim for compensation.
Terry instructed Sintons Solicitors of Newcastle upon Tyne to pursue a claim. He had exposure to asbestos whilst serving his apprenticeship as an engineer at the Readheads Yard in South Shields in the 1950’s.
As with most ship yards, asbestos was widely used for insulation purposes. Laggers used to apply asbestos to pipe work, bulk heads and boiler casings.
Terry worked in confined spaces on board ships without a mask or any system to reduce the levels of dust in the atmosphere.
When Terry attended for his medical examination the chest consultant was concerned about a shadowing picked up on an x-ray.
Further investigations followed and in early 2006 Terry and his wife Beryl were given the devastating news that he had asbestos related mesothelioma . Mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer which is almost always associated with a history of exposure to asbestos.
The insurers of the ship yard accepted legal responsibility and indicated a willingness to fully compensate Terry for his illness.
However, before terms of settlement could be agreed, the insurers sought to exploit a legal loophole and avoid payment altogether.
In 2006 the Court of Appeal heard legal argument as to which insurance company was obliged to make a payment in mesothelioma claims where typically the exposure to asbestos occurs many years before the symptoms develop. The Court decided that it was the insurer on risk at the time of onset of symptoms which was responsible.
Although that case did not involve a claim brought by a former employee of a company which negligently exposed the individual to asbestos dust it was used as an excuse by some insurers to argue that they were not legally responsible to make any payment.
The difficulty for many sufferers such as Terry was that by the time their symptoms developed there was no insurer for the simple reason that the employer had ceased trading many years ago.
As Terry had no significant occupational exposure to asbestos with any other employer it left him and his wife Beryl with no option but to await the outcome of a legal challenge to this loophole.
Sadly, Terry did not live to see the end of his claim.
Speaking to the South Shields Gazette in January 2007 he said “I feel I have been cheated because I wanted to leave my wife Beryl financially secure. The insurers of Readheads initially agreed to pay up, but now the law has changed, my wife may not get anything after I am gone.”
Terry passed away in June 2008. His wife Beryl was determined to see the battle through to its conclusion in honour of her husband who she described as “a great character”.
The long wait came to an end in March 2012, 8 years after Terry was first diagnosed as suffering from an asbestos related disease.
The Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords) reversed the earlier Court decision and ruled that the insurance company on risk at the time negligent exposure to asbestos was required to meet claims for compensation where asbestos related injury arose. In other words, they put the law back into the position it was when Terry was first diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Within weeks of this Court ruling Sintons LLP successfully negotiated a settlement of the claim brought on behalf of his widow and his Estate. Now that the lengthy Court battle is over Beryl feels that justice has – at last – been done.
Speaking after the settlement was achieved she expressed her thanks to Sintons for bringing the claim to a successful conclusion but added “mesothelioma is a dreadful disease and no amount of money can truly compensate anyone for the loss of a loved one in such a way. Nevertheless, I know that Terry would have been pleased with the final settlement. It saddens me however that he did not live to see the case through to the end.”