The Law Lords have re-opened the door to compensation claims for asbestos-related disease. But how far-reaching will the ruling be? Nic Paton reports
Union boss George Brumwell was a very happy man on 16 May. Brumwell, general secretary of the construction union Ucatt, has waged a personal campaign to compensate people suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
He hailed the decision in the House of Lords that day on the cases of three people suffering from mesothelioma, which overturned earlier judgments by the High Court and Court of Appeal, as a landmark victory.
The decision would open the litigation floodgates for thousands of people with such illnesses, costing British businesses between £6bn and £8bn, he suggested.
But while it was certainly good news for the three claimants, the dust has now begun to settle and the reality looks a little less dramatic.
The Lords overturned an earlier Court of Appeal judgment that argued compensation could not be paid to workers exposed to asbestos dust by more than one employer. They were primarily considering the Fairchild case in which a man died of mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while working for Leeds City Council in the early 1960s and later for the games maker, Waddingtons (Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Ltd and others  EWCA Civ 1881).
The High Court and subsequently the Court of Appeal had rejected his widow's claim for compensation. Had she lost at the House of Lords as well, Mrs Fairchild would have faced a legal bill of around £1m. Instead, she will now receive approximately £191,000 in compensation.
Lord Bingham and his four colleagues decided if a person suffering from mesothelioma had been exposed in several places making it impossible to prove which of those companies was at fault, then all defendants should contribute because they all exposed the claimant.
Two other claims were also considered: those of Doreen Fox, widow of Thomas Fox, who worked for a firm called Spousal (Midland) as well as for several employers at Liverpool docks; and Edwin Matthews, 54, from Rochester in Kent, who is dying from mesothelioma.
Matthews was awarded compensation of £155,000 by the High Court, but this was then overturned by the Court of Appeal. A former factory worker, he had brought his claim against two employers, Associated Portland Cement and British Uralite.