Truck factory electrician whose wife died of cancer after inhaling asbestos dust from his moustache when they kissed 40 years ago is entitled to up to £1million compensation, judge rules
- Lydia Carey died aged 60 in November 2018 after repeated contact with dust
- Transmitted to her from her husband John’s work overalls from 1976 to 1979
- Judge found Vauxhall plant liable allowing hearing to determine compensation
A truck factory electrician whose wife died of lung cancer after inhaling asbestos dust from his moustache when they kissed 40 years ago has won the right to up to £1m in compensation.
Lydia Carey died aged 60 in November last year after repeated contact with toxic asbestos fibres left on her husband John’s body and work overalls while he worked for Vauxhall Motors in Dunstable, near Luton during the 1970’s.
The lethal fibres were transmitted from husband to wife during the rituals of daily life, London’s High Court heard – such as when Mrs Carey washed his dust-soaked clothes and when the young couple kissed and hugged.
John Carey has won the right to compensation after his wife Lydia (who he is pictured with in this undated photo) died from lung cancer after inhaling asbestos of his work overalls
The dust and fibres lay dormant in Mrs Carey’s body from the ‘window of exposure’ – 1976 to 1979 – until they triggered the cancer that killed her.
Mrs Carey was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining of the lungs – in October 2017, and her husband duly sued the car giant over her premature death.
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Mr Carey, of Bedfordshire, claimed he was exposed to large amounts of asbestos fibres principally while working at Vauxhall’s truck and bus factory in Dunstable, which he then transferred to his spouse.
The factory ‘crawled’ with asbestos, he claimed, adding that it felt as if ‘the whole factory was held together with asbestos’.
The dust and fibres lay dormant in Mrs Carey’s body from the ‘window of exposure’ – 1976 to 1979 – until they triggered the cancer that killed her. Pictured left: Mr Carey in an undated photo outside the High Court in London
He worked on the site as a maintenance electrician, explained Judge Karen Walden-Smith.
‘He described that they would sometimes have to walk through, kneel or even lie in dust in order to work,’ she added.
What is mesothelioma and how common is it?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body’s organs. It’s usually linked to asbestos exposure.
It mainly affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), although it can also affect the lining of the tummy (peritoneal mesothelioma), heart or testicles.
More than 2,600 people are diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK. Most cases are diagnosed in people aged 60-80 and men are affected more commonly than women.
Unfortunately it’s rarely possible to cure mesothelioma, although treatment can help control the symptoms.
The symptoms of mesothelioma tend to develop gradually over time. They typically don’t appear until several decades after exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres that used to be widely used in construction.
These tiny fibres can easily get in the lungs, where they get stuck, damaging the lungs over time. It usually takes a while for this to cause any obvious problems, with mesothelioma typically developing more than 20 years after exposure to asbestos.
The use of asbestos was completely banned in 1999, so the risk of exposure is much lower nowadays. However, materials containing asbestos are still found in many older buildings.
Source: NHS Choices
Vauxhall Motors denied liability to compensate Mr Carey for his wife’s death, disputing that the Dunstable factory was the source of her deadly exposure.
Lawyers for the company suggested her exposure stemmed from contact with her father’s clothing while a youngster, as he also worked with asbestos in the 1960s.
Vauxhall also disputed that Mr Carey was exposed to substantial amounts of asbestos on a ‘routine basis’ at its factory, said Judge Walden-Smith.
But the judge ruled that, between 1976 and 1979, ‘there was still a considerable amount of dust in the Dunstable factory’.
Although Mr Carey had not worked directly with asbestos he would still have been working in ‘close proximity’ to the dust and fibres, she said.
His exposure was ‘significant’, said the judge, and although his company operated an overalls washing scheme, Mr Carey had not used it.
‘While the description of being “covered” in dust might be an exaggeration, I am satisfied that there was dust in the factory, and that during the period 1976 to 1979 that included asbestos fibres which would be picked up onto clothes, hair and skin, and transferred home,’ said the judge.
‘There would then be further contact of the dust and fibres through the laundering of clothes and normal personal contact. I am satisfied that, on this preliminary issue, liability has been made out.’
With the issue of liability established, the court can now go on to assess compensation at a future hearing.
Mr and Mrs Carey had just celebrated 40 years of marriage when she died.
Mr Carey earlier explained that her diagnosis had come ‘completely out of the blue’.
‘We were together since our teens,’ he said. ‘She was my world, she meant everything to me. She was a lovely lady, very bubbly.
‘We have four grandchildren and she was so much looking forward to seeing them grow up. She had everything to go on for.’
Workers at the Vauxhall factory in Dunstable, as seen in a 1967 publicity brochure released by the company
Asbestos: The hidden killer that was used in thousands of buildings
A sheet of asbestos fibres, which were commonly used to insulate buildings until the 1980s when the health risks they posed became clear
Asbestos is a heat-resistant mineral that was popular in building and construction until the 1980s until the dangers it posed became clear.
As the material was cheap and resistant to fire, it was regularly used as insulation for buildings and electrical hotplate wiring.
The first reports about the cancer-causing properties of asbestos first emerged in Germany in the late 1930s.
However, it was not until the 1960s that serious diseases like like mesothelioma were firmly established as being caused by asbestos exposure.
The danger of asbestos comes from microscopic fibres which can tear off the material and fester in the body to cause cancer.
Breathing in small amounts of the fibres does not cause any problems, but it is with larger quantities when health conditions occur.
It is now banned in the UK, but it is allowed to remain in some buildings where it is in good condition and undisturbed.
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