May 22, 2019

Partner of former BBC engineer receives damages following his death from mesothelioma at the age of 58 after first solicitors give up

Pat was still working full time as an engineer, for another company, when began to suffer with breathlessness and a cough in 2013. He attended his GP but was told he had laryngitis.  When his symptoms continued, he returned and was referred to hospital for tests.  Sadly, in April Pat was given the devastating news that he had developed mesothelioma. Pat and his partner Roberta were shocked by the diagnosis and surprised that Pat’s exposure to asbestos decades earlier had caused him to develop the disease. Sadly, Pat did not tolerate chemotherapy well. He had several admissions to hospital and also to a nursing home. His condition deteriorated quickly and he passed away in October 2013.

Pat had instructed a specialist firm of solicitors when he was first diagnosed and gave a statement about his working life and exposure to asbestos however he did not sign his statement prior to his death. At post mortem the pathologist concluded that the diagnosis was uncertain and was either mesothelioma or a peripheral nerve sheath tumour but he couldn’t say for certain. Pat’s long term partner Roberta continued with the claim but these issues caused difficulties as the solicitors didn’t take any further steps to obtain medical evidence to prove Pat had mesothelioma. They were also worried about Pat’s exposure evidence and whether it would be sufficient to prove breach of the law/negligence. After almost two years of investigations the solicitors suggested to Roberta that her file be closed. Roberta decided to seek a second opinion and approached Jennifer Seavor in our team.

Jennifer obtained the previous solicitors file of papers and upon review doing so believed that there were sufficient prospects of success to proceed and a letter of claim was sent to the BBC.

Whilst awaiting a response, Jennifer obtained Pat’s tissue samples and instructed a pathologist to review tissue samples taken at post mortem and undertake further tests. The pathologist was of the opinion that the most likely diagnosis was mesothelioma. Further investigations were also undertaken to try and gather further evidence about how Pat was exposed to asbestos.

The evidence was sent to the BBC but they did not admit liability. It was therefore necessary to start court proceedings and just prior to the first court hearing the BBC admitted liability and agreed to make Roberta an interim payment for £50,000.

The claim continued and the court put in to place a timetable to directions leading to a hearing in December 2018 for a judge to decide the damages to be awarded to Roberta.

Negotiations were undertaken however settlement could not be agreed with the BBC. The main issue involved Roberta’s likely life expectancy and therefore how long she could claim certain heads of loss. The expert for the BBC was of the opinion that Roberta would live for 5-10 years whereas our expert thought Roberta would live for a further 15-20 years.

Jennifer took advice from specialist Counsel at 12 Kings Bench Walk Chambers – Harry Steinberg QC and Aliyah Akram. They suggested settlement be proposed on the basis of a periodical payments order for Roberta. This would give Roberta a lump sum but also annual payments for the rest of her life. Whilst PPO’s are frequently used in other areas of personal injury, it is novel in mesothelioma cases.

The Defendant was resistant to this approach and whilst offers of settlement were made, they would not agree to settlement on a PPO basis. This was important for Roberta as the evidence of the experts regarding her life expectancy was so far apart. If her case went to a final hearing and a judge accepted the evidence of the Defendant’s expert but Roberta went on to live much longer than he had predicted, this would have meant that Roberta was significantly undercompensated.

The parties attended a joint settlement meeting in December 2018, two weeks before the final court hearing was listed. We were able to negotiate settlement on a PPO basis. The effect of this is that Roberta received a lump sum of £274,000 gross and a periodical payment of £38,000 per annum reducing to £21,716 per annum to account for would have been the change in the couples income over the years for example when Pat would have retired if he had not died prematurely from mesothelioma.

Jennifer said: “I am so pleased to have been able to negotiate this settlement for Roberta. She came to me when she had lost hope in her previous solicitor and having tragically lost Pat, her partner of 33 years only a few years before at the young age of 58. Pat was exposed to asbestos during his working life and at a time when the dangers were well known. He could have been protected by his employer but he was not. Whilst no amount of money can compensate Roberta for her loss I hope the settlement will mean she has financial security for the future.”

On Trustpilot Roberta said:

“I cannot praise Jennifer Seavor of RWK highly enough. My claim for compensation for my late partner, who died tragically young from lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos (mesothelioma) was complex and drawn out over years. Throughout it all, Jennifer handled everything promptly and with meticulous professionalism. At the same time, she was conscious of, and sensitive to my feelings, whilst conveying 'legal-speak' in plain English. I would recommend her with confidence.”

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