HASAG Asbestos Disease Support is dedicated to supporting people affected by Asbestos-related diseases in the South, South East, London and the Home Counties.
A vital aspect of any mesothelioma claim is to protect the future of a spouse and children of someone who dies following exposure to asbestos at work, particularly when the deceased provided care to a family member who then suffers significantly from their death.
Losing a carer to mesothelioma can feel like a double tragedy: not only is there the emotional tragedy when someone dies, often there is also a practical and financial loss when that person passes away.
Client’s families often feel uncomfortable being asked to quantify the financial cost of losing someone they love in a mesothelioma claim, but our job is to fight for the future security of the family of the deceased so we must calculate what they have lost now and in the years ahead.
For an elderly spouse who loses their husband or wife to asbestos cancer such a claim can therefore include the high cost of care home fees when they are not able to cope on their own.
Local authorities cap the amount they will contribute to state-run care home fees where someone has assets above a certain value. In that instance, people are expected to take equity from their home to pay the fees, meaning the bereaved would suffer significant financial disadvantage from losing their spouse because of the negligence of an employer.
We recently settled a case on behalf of Mrs Brown* whose husband died aged 88 following exposure to asbestos working as a bricklayer at the Heinz factory in Harlesden in the 1940s.
The Browns had been married for nearly 70 years and Mr Brown was the main carer of his wife who suffered dementia. In an all-too-common scenario, while he was at work, Mr Brown was regularly exposed to asbestos dust in the factory working alongside fitters lagging pipes with asbestos. In his statement before he died, Mr Brown remembers the fitters mixing raw asbestos in tin tubs, creating billows of dust when they emptied the sacks of asbestos into the tubs. Mr Brown was given no protective clothing or equipment and remembers brushing the dust off his clothes pretty much daily.
Mr Brown began to notice symptoms of breathlessness and generally feeling unwell in 2016, around the same time his wife was diagnosed with dementia. From then onwards, he could not leave her on her own in the house and cared for her 24/7.
When Mr Brown died, Mrs Brown moved in with their sons and the matrimonial home was sold. Mrs Brown was then seen by a consultant psychiatrist who recommended that she needed transition to 24-hour care. Mrs Brown was therefore moved to a specialist nursing home for patients with dementia.
Court proceedings were issued against Mr Brown’s employer and at the first court hearing, judgment was entered in favour of Mrs Brown. The case was listed for a one-day trial in relation to the valuation of the claim.
Mrs Brown’s case was that under the Fatal Accidents Act, she depended on her husband’s joint ownership of the matrimonial home and that she would have needed 24-hour nursing home care even if her husband had not been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
As it was, Mr Brown lost 2.23 years of life because of the mesothelioma and Mrs Brown’s dependency on the joint ownership of the matrimonial home was for that period. In other words, if Mr Brown had not died because of the defendant’s negligence, he would have lived in the matrimonial home for a further 2.23 years and the local authority would not have included the value of the property as capital when calculating Mrs Brown’s means assessment for funding of nursing home fees during that time.
Shaheen Mosquera of Fieldfisher calculated the extra nursing home fees that Mrs Brown had to pay for 2.23 years because of the sale of the matrimonial home and that amount was included in the Schedule of Loss put forward to the defendant.
The claim settled a week before trial and the defendant’s offer reflected the full amount claimed for the care home fees.
* Name has been changed for the purpose of anonymity