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Asbestos in Schools
Appeal at the Royal Court of Justice
(14 October 2009)
Mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure at school as a pupil
In July 2009 Liverpool High Court found Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council liable for damages for negligent exposure of Dianne Willmore to asbestos fibres while she was a pupil at her secondary school in Huyton, she joined the school in 1972 at the age of 11 and left in 1979. Dianne Willmore was diagnosed in March 2007 as suffering from mesothelioma.
The school was opened in 1972 when asbestos was widely used so that asbestos materials were prevalent throughout the building. The court accepted evidence of possible asbestos exposure from: work on the AIB ceiling tiles in a corridor while the Claimant and other pupils walked through the corridor. The disturbance of ceiling tiles by pupils' misbehaviour. Ceiling tiles in the girls' toilets being damaged. Dianne Willmore gave evidence and stated:
“I remember by the Sports Hall, tradesmen routing wires through the ceiling, they stood on step ladders to do it. ...Routing of cables went on right across the school. They had to take the ceiling tiles down to do this.... she remembered the ceiling tiles being stacked in the corridor while the workmen were on the ladders and working in the ceiling void.”
.... some of the boys in the school would seize the blazers, coats or briefcases of others whom they wished to victimise. They would push up the loose ceiling tiles and conceal these items in the ceiling void. The tiles would get broken or damaged
A lot of the bullying [in the school] took place in the toilets. There would be smoking in the toilets and vandalism of the toilets frequently. The toilets, sinks, walls and ceilings were damaged or defaced, some of the toilet blocks had fires set in them too.”
One of the country’s leading mesothelioma consultants, Dr Rudd, gave evidence that:
“Mesothelioma can occur after low level exposure and there is no known threshold dose below which there is no risk”.
“...'significant' is defined in accordance with the definition adopted in relation to mesothelioma causation by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in their 1996 report (Cm 3467): 'a level above that commonly found in the air in buildings and the general outdoor environment.' It would be appropriate for the Court to conclude that each such exposure materially increased the risk that she would develop mesothelioma.'
The Judge, The Hon Justice Nicol, accepted that the exposure had occurred and that to be causative it had to above de miminis, he summarised:
He concluded that negligence had occurred and stated:
There was little evidence as to what precise work had led to a need for the ceiling panels to be removed. There was no evidence that it was of such urgency that it could not be done during the school holiday, or at weekends, or even at night when the school would have been empty....
For the same reasons, the damage to the ceiling tiles in the girls' toilets should have been detected and led to their replacement with a non-asbestos product. It would have been readily foreseeable that ceiling tiles stacked in the toilets might be knocked and broken.
In short, I conclude that all three of the situations which I have found exposed the Claimant to a material risk, amounted to a breach of duty on the part of the Defendant.” (1)
This judgement is most relevant as it applies to many of the other incidents that have happened over the years in schools throughout the country, where asbestos has been disturbed, contamination taken place and where exposures of individuals is likely. The court accepted that the authorities were aware of the dangers and yet because they failed to prevent the exposures they had been negligent, they had breached their duty of care.
On 22 September Lord Justice Moses recognised the importance of the case by granting Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council permission to appeal. Given the extreme gravity of Mrs Willmore's condition, he ordered an urgent hearing of the case, which will now go before the Court of Appeal on 14th October 2009.
|(1) Case No: 8LV90020 HIGH COURT QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION Liverpool District Registry Hon Justice Nicol 24 Jul 2009|