June Hancock v Turner & Newall and J.W. Roberts
June Hancock was just a child when she was first exposed to asbestos in the 1930s. In fact, she never worked for any employer who used asbestos in manufacturing products. Instead, she played with the layers of the fine dust that accumulated on the school grounds across the street from J.W. Roberts, an asbestos factory. Her description went on to draw a picture of fine clouds of powder drifting out of the windows of the factory, then dusting the community with layers of asbestos thick enough for her and her friends to pack into clumps and have a sort of “snowball” fight. She also described how she and her friends would play on the factory docks, play with the sacks of asbestos, stir it up and basically, were constantly exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.
In 1983 Hancock’s mother died of mesothelioma. In 1993, she was diagnosed with the disease, herself. She’d had enough of the suffering caused by the blatantly negligent way J.W. Roberts ignored what it knew, or could and should have known about the dangers of asbestosis during the 1930s. She was disgusted that J.W. Roberts knew the school children were being exposed to asbestos in a place where they should have been kept safe; and that they were bombarded with the dust billowing out the windows and contaminating the entire town; and that they were exposed by the unsecured asbestos on the docks and around the factory.
Enough is Enough
It was time to see a lawyer and find out if she had any recourse. June Hancock pursued her case for two years, suffering the progressive debilitation of her disease, but never relenting. Represented by her equally unrelenting lawyer, she won her case in 1995. Hancock was awarded £65,000.
Big Win for Many
But the real victory was that she was the first person who was neither an employee nor a household member of an employee to win a mesothelioma claim from a miner or asbestos products manufacturer. This case opened the way for class actions involving plaintiffs whose common factor is community exposure. Sadly, Hancock died in 1997, but at least died knowing she’d opened the way for others who, like her, were the innocent victims of corporate negligence.
Employer Feels the Pinch
By 1997 with claims mounting against J.W. Roberts and its parent company Turner & Newall (T&N), corporate executives were keeping a close eye on the United States Supreme Court hoping that their decisions in Amchem Products, Inc. v. George Windsor case would limit their liability, as some of the claims against them involved U.S. employees. They were devastated when the Court decision rendered illegal the fixed amount T&N would pay for compensation The Court’s decision in favor of asbestos victims preserved their rights to sue for the damages they incurred or to join a class action.
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