In a case which bitterly revealed the difficulty faced by litigants involved in historic asbestos cases, a widow who claimed that her husband's death was caused by exposure to the lethal substance whilst working in a cemetery in the 1970s has received a judge's sympathy – but not a penny in compensation.
The widow’s bricklayer husband of 40 years had – four months before he died from cancer in 2011 – recounted details of how he had inhaled asbestos dust whilst decorating a ceiling in a graveyard building. Her lawyers claimed that his employer at the time, a local authority, had failed in the duty of care it owed him.
The Court found that the widow was a ‘witness of truth’ and that her husband had probably been describing work that he had done on the ceiling of a mess room used by gravediggers. However, three subsequent surveys of the building had not revealed any traces of asbestos.
The judge ruled, "At the end of the day, I am driven to the conclusion that, whatever he must have believed on looking back at events, I am not satisfied that there was any form of plaster or decorative coating that contained asbestos. Whilst I have great sympathy with the deceased, and for his widow, I am compelled to conclude that the burden of proof has not been discharged and that the claim must be dismissed."