Dring v Cape & Ors
In December 2017 the High Court ruled in the case of Dring v Cape & Ors that historical documents setting out corporate knowledge of an asbestos hazard, due to be destroyed under the terms of an out-of-court settlement, must be preserved and made available to other litigants.
Master Victoria McCloud ruled that the courts did not simply provide a service to litigants appearing before them. Under the common law system previous cases formed the basis of the advice solicitors gave to their clients. Therefore, in the interests of open justice and public access, litigants could not stop others viewing documents. In addition, academics and journalists often use such materials to further public education about the dangers of certain carcinogens, further increasing the need to make them accessible to the public.
The background to the case
In February 2017, several insurance companies who had paid compensation to asbestos victims and Cape Distribution Limited and subsidiary companies settled a dispute out of court. The dispute centred on the fact that the insurers felt Cape should share some of the compensation costs, given it was their products which caused victims to suffer asbestos-related diseases, including Mesothelioma.
During the case, Cape had to disclose thousands of documents which showed it was aware of the dangers of asbestos and the risks it posed to its workers. As part of the settlement agreement, both sides agreed that these documents would be destroyed.
Very helpful from start to finish. Kept me informed on all developments. Easy to contact if I had a query. [They] explained everything in easy to understand language, and worked to [their] best ability to give me the best result.
- Mrs S. Bryant, Reading, Mesothelioma client
The Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum fought to prevent the destruction of the documents and won. Following this victory, the Forum then brought a case to be given the documents so they could be used to help other mesothelioma victims currently pursuing compensation claims in courts. The Forum argued that it was in the wider public interest that “to learn more about how Cape contributed to the biggest industrial disaster this country has ever seen and how their political lobbying influenced Government safety measures that were supposed to protect the lives and well-being of workers.”
Master McCloud stated that the Forum had a legitimate interest in accessing the documents. Furthermore, they intended to make the documents publicly available to promote academic consideration of the science and history of exposure to asbestos, understand the development of Cape's knowledge of asbestos safety; clarify the extent of Cape's responsibility for product safety issues; and assist in giving legal advice to asbestos disease sufferers. This showed the group intended to use the documents for a legitimate purpose.
Graham Dring, Chair of the Forum said after the decision was handed down: “This decision is fantastic news. Cape, along with Turner & Newall were the two biggest asbestos companies in this country. Their activities and products exposed thousands of workers and their families to asbestos and caused many deaths from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. It is essential we now find out exactly how much they knew about the dangers of their products and when they knew this. These documents have been hidden for far too long. Cape owe us all an explanation of their role in the biggest industrial scandal to hit this country, a scandal that has not yet run its course with tens of thousands more men and women expected to die from mesothelioma.”
What this decision means for victims of asbestos-related illness wishing to claim compensation
This decision is a historic victory for victims of asbestos. For years, large corporations deliberately hid the truth of the danger the substance presented, leading to the deaths of thousands of men and women. For example, as early as 1898, government factory inspectors were warning that asbestos "easily demonstrated danger to the health of the workers." And Lancashire manufacturing giant Turner & Newall files first refers to ‘asbestos cancer’ in Rochdale in the 1930s. Yet despite this, the company, one of the world’s largest asbestos conglomerates, employed PR companies and politicians to hide the truth it knew for decades, namely that "the only really safe number of asbestos fibres in the works environment is nil.”
By refusing to allow these vital disclosure documents to be destroyed and passing them onto a group which advocates for the rights of the people and families affected by asbestos exposure, Master McCloud has ensured that future claimants and their lawyers will have access to vital evidence.
This will be of enormous significance to all asbestos victims and their families seeking justice and compensation.
At IBB, our industrial diseases team, led by compensation expert,Malcom Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for an asbestos-related disease. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at email@example.com or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.