Landmark case for Asbestos exposure at school

Sunderland pipework

Workers exposed to low levels of asbestos dust have been given the green light to launch claims for compensation following a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court in March 2011
One of the country’s leading legal experts in this area said he expects compensation claims to rise significantly with people involved in a wide range of trades now set to pursue a claim.

In the past, workers in trades where asbestos was widespread, such as shipbuilding and engineering provided the bulk of claims but now office workers, teachers and lab technicians are set to make a stand.

The Supreme Court has awarded compensation to the family of Dianne Willmore, who died of mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer, after having small doses of asbestos dust while she was at school. She was diagnosed at the age of 46. Before she died, Willmore gave evidence at court that she had exposure to asbestos while a pupil at Bowring Comprehensive School in Merseyside.

She remembered council workmen removing ceiling tiles to re-route cables; schoolmates removing ceiling tiles to put blazers into the ceilings as a prank; and vandalised stacked tiles in the girls’ toilets. Some of these tiles turned out to contain asbestos.

The judge at Liverpool High Court found in her favour and awarded her £240,000 less DWP Benefits. The council appealed to the Court of Appeal. Three judges in the Court of Appeal said that the case should not be overturned. Willmore died the day after the decision was made. More than 75% of schools in the country contain asbestos, with most containing the more dangerous types. A Medical Research Council report stated: “It is not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that the entire school population has been exposed to asbestos in school buildings.”

In the last 10 years, more than 140 school teachers have died of mesothelioma, as well as teaching assistants, caretakers, cleaners, school secretaries and nursery nurses. If school staff are being exposed to asbestos, then so are the children in their classes. However, because of the long latency there are no records of the number of children who have subsequently died.