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Fairchild v Glenhaven [2002] 3 WLR 89 House of Lords

This was a conjoined appeal involving three claimants who contracted mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer contracted by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma can be caused by a single fibre of asbestos. The condition does not get worse the greater the exposure. Once the fibre has embedded into the lung it can lay dormant for 30-40 years before giving rise to a tumour which can then take 10 years to kill. It will be only the last 1-2 years where a person may experience symptoms. By this time it is too late to treat. Each of the claimants had been exposed to asbestos by a number of different employers. They were unable to demonstrate, and medical science was unable to detect, which employer exposed each of them to the one fatal fibre.


If the claimants could demonstrate that one employer had materially increased the risk of contracting mesothelioma they were entitled to claim full compensation from that one employer.
Barker v Saint Gobain Pipelines [2004] EWCA Civ 545 Court of Apeal

Mr Barker contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. He worked for the defendant between 1960-68. He worked for a different employer for 6 weeks where he was also exposed to asbestos. After 1968 he became self-employed as a plasterer for 20 years. Whilst self employed he was exposed to asbestos on three occasions. The defendant argued that his exposure to asbestos whilst self-employed prevented him from being able to rely on the causation principle established in Fairchild v Glenhaven whereby the claimant is able to demonstrate that the defendant's breach of duty materially increased the risk of contracting the disease.


Fairchild did apply and the claimant was thus successful in establishing causation. His damages would be reduced under the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 to reflect the periods where he exposed himself to risk during the course of his self-employment.
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