Defendants not liable for exposure to asbestos dust causing mesothelioma, as they would not have been aware of risk of injury at the relevant time.

Mr Abraham alleged that the Defendant companies exposed him to asbestos dust in the course of his employment with them between 1956 and 1965 and that, as a result, he developed a malignant pleural mesothelioma. His work included domestic plumbing work, some central heating work and involved some use of asbestos scorch pads, asbestos string and occasionally may have included cutting a flue pipe made of asbestos material. He alleged that he had never been given any warnings about the dangers of asbestos, nor any advice as the precautions he might take.

Held Mrs Justice Swift found as follows:

  • On the evidence, Mr Abraham's exposure to asbestos whilst working for the First Defendant was very light and occurred intermittently. His exposure whilst working for the Second Defendant, although somewhat more frequent, was still modest and infrequent.
  • Although his exposure was modest, the overwhelming likelihood was that it caused his mesothelioma.
  • It is highly unlikely that an employer whose employee's only exposure to asbestos dust arose as a result of the infrequent use of asbestos string and/or asbestos scorch pads would have believed, on reading the literature, that he was or might be exposing that employee to the risk of an asbestos-related injury. It was not until after the publication of the Newhouse and Thompson paper in 1965 at the earliest that employers would have been aware that asbestos exposure at these levels gave rise to a risk of injury. Accordingly there was no negligence on the part of the Defendants.
  • The Defendants were not in breach of statutory duty. As they could not reasonably have been expected to have known of the risk of injury, it could not have been reasonably practicable for them to take any steps to protect Mr Abraham.

Comment The Judge concluded "Whilst I have the greatest sympathy for the claimant, who, as I have found, contracted the deadly condition of mesothelioma decades ago as a result of asbestos exposure at work, I find that his claim against both defendants must fail."

This decision reinforces the key point that it is not sufficient for a claimant to show that there has been exposure; he must also show that the defendant had sufficient knowledge of the risks at the relevant time.