Damages for asbestos-related deaths: the Jury is in
The relatives of a victim of epithelioid mesothelioma, an asbestos-related condition, have been awarded a significant level of damages totalling more than £340,000 in a recent decision by the Court of Session against Edinburgh Shipyard firm Henry Robb Ltd.
Henry Robb Ltd was a shipbuilding company of national importance based in the Leith area of Edinburgh between 1918 and 1984. During the Second World War, Robb’s produced a great number of warships, anti-submarine crafts, minesweeping trawlers, and large merchant navy vessels. The site is now host to the Royal Yacht Britannia. George Manson, the pursuer, worked for the firm as a shipbuilder for a number of years, during which he was exposed to asbestos dust and particles. He developed mesothelioma as a result and died at the age of 81. Liability for his death was admitted by the firm, and the Court’s decision was restricted to the level of compensation to be awarded.
The action was brought by Mr Manson’s 59 and 55-year-old sons in their capacity as executors and as individuals. His 79-year-old wife was the third pursuer. They sought compensation under the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011 for his death.
The case was heard in the Court of Session before Lord Clarke, who made an award of £90,000 for “loss of financial support” and £75,000 for “loss of society” to the widow of George Manson. The sum of £30,000 was to be paid to each of his two sons as individuals and a further £90,000 payable to them as executors. A number of smaller awards were made in addition, representing funeral expenses, loss of services, solatium and past services.
Lord Clarke heard evidence that Mr Manson would have lived for a further 5.8 years had he not suffered from the fatal condition. He also heard evidence that the family had “lost the continuing loving and supportive relationship” of a husband and father who was described as their “solid rock”.
In arguing for the award, Senior Counsel for the Pursuers placed emphasis on the fact that, although Mr Manson was at an advanced age at the date of his death, his sons lived with him and his wife for 25 years, and had formed a particularly close relationship. Counsel also submitted that the family had been witness to the suffering Mr Manson endured, his rapidly declining health and his eventual death over the course of 10 months. It had a “devastating effect” on all of them.
Senior counsel for the Defender accepted that all three pursuers had clearly been greatly affected by the deceased’s death. He submitted that account should be taken of Mr Manson’s advanced age at the date of his death and his short life expectancy due to other conditions from which the pursuer suffered.
Lord Clarke acknowledged that he should have regard to the guidance in Hamilton v Ferguson Transport (Spean Bridge) Ltd 2012 SC 486, which states that the court should seek to achieve “consistency” between typical jury awards and awards made judicially in death cases like the present. He took this into consideration in deciding the level of compensation, together with Counsels’ arguments and the age of the relatives themselves. This resulted in the significant award of over £340,000.
This award demonstrates that the gap in Scotland between judicial and jury awards for loss of society is continuing to narrow. This should come as welcome news for relatives who have lost a loved one. However, this line of decisions has the potential to have a significant impact on the insurance industry. Insurers should review current claim reserves and adjust their approach to handling current and future claims, if necessary.