London Appeals Court to Hear Landmark Mesothelioma Case

Nether Langwith, UK—The death of a painting and decorating contractor in 2003 from the fatal asbestos cancer mesothelioma is at the center of a new court case which may have a lasting impact on mesothelioma sufferers’ compensation claims.
Leslie Edwin Screach worked for G&C Whittle Ltd., in Chiswick, Middlesex, from 1963 to 1968. While on the job as a painting and decorating contractor, he was exposed to asbestos, and breathed in the deadly, microscopic fibers released from that asbestos. Asbestos, a building and insulating material that was widely used in the mid-20th Century, was an especial risk for those who worked in construction or renovation projects. Although it is heatproof, flame-resistant, strong and durable, and therefore useful in a number of applications, it is also a known carcinogen and can lead to mesothelioma, a cancer which strikes the membranous lining of the lungs and thoracic cavity. Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis and can take up to 50 years to fully develop, making both diagnosis and treatment difficult.

On average, a patient diagnosed with mesothelioma dies within 18 months of learning that he or she has the disease. Screach, who died in 2003 at age 73 from mesothelioma, was survived by a daughter, Ruth Durham. After her father’s death, Durham made an insurance claim of £150,000, but the insurance company denied it, claiming that they could not be held responsible for asbestos contamination that occurred 40 years prior. The case went to court, and a High Court judge ruled that liability begins at the time of exposure to asbestos, not at the time when the asbestos-related disease develops or is diagnosed. The insurance companies were granted the opportunity to appeal, which they did. A London Court of Appeals will now hear the case, which involves not only Durham but a number of other families who have lost loved ones to this devastating cancer. The hearing, which will be before the nation’s top judges, is expected to last three weeks.