Pensioner poisoned with asbestos wins more than £50k in damages from ex-employer

A terminally ill pensioner who was poisoned by deadly asbestos has won the right to more than £50,000 in damages from his former employer. Bernard Atkinson was given no more than 15 months to live in September last year after he was diagnosed with cancer.

The 85-year-old had worked as a heating engineer for various companies, being exposed to asbestos regularly throughout his working life. But it is his last employer, Billingham-based Geoffrey Robinson Limited, which has been ordered to pay the damages.

The High Court ordered the company to pay an initial £50,000 on account of Mr Atkinson’s compensation. The court heard he had worked for the company from 1981 to 1995 and claimed to have suffered continuous exposure to asbestos.

He described removing asbestos lagging from pipes by simply smashing it off. Pipework was re-lagged with a paste, which was made by pouring it into a bucket, creating plumes of deadly dust, he said. In a witness statement, he went on;

“On nearly every job I was exposed to asbestos dust.  It was only after I had been employed by the firm for a number of years that we became aware of the dangers of working with asbestos and alternatives to asbestos-based insulation were introduced.”

Mr Atkinson was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs, in July 2014, prompting his damages claim. The company denied it had exposed him to asbestos and said that, even if it did, it was minimal and it was not in breach of duty.

The case was decided in July when senior court official Master Gidden ruled that the company had no chance of winning. It appealed to the High Court, only to now see top judge Mr Justice Foskett uphold the damages decision.

Giving judgment, he said he could see nothing wrong with Master Gidden’s ruling;

“Quite often the truth on a matter of fact lies somewhere between the extremes of both parties – here between Mr Atkinson’s daily exposure case and the company’s no or minimal exposure case.  I can see nothing wrong with the master’s decision that Mr Atkinson’s evidence supported a conclusion of significant exposure.”

The company’s appeal was dismissed, meaning Mr Atkinson is entitled to his damages. Mr Atkinson will receive £50,000 up front, with more to follow when it has been assessed.