Thursday, 12 August 2010

growing old disgracefully while the due legal process grinds on

Setting mesothelioma aside - and that's a BIG ask - there are times when life feels like one big party. The last couple of weeks has felt like that...It's good to grow old acting a little bit disgracefully from time to time!  

Hard on the heels of my significant birthday party came Martin's (Steve's brother) birthday celebration in Frome last weekend.  We danced the night away to another good band and the birthday boy seemed to enjoy himself too!

A leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning was followed by a leisurely drive back to Oxford via the wonderful rolling downland of Salisbury Plain and the standing stones at Avebury, stopping from time to time to try our hand at some landscape photography.

I think that all this partying (not to mention the late nights) has finally taken its toll. We've both felt a bit whacked this week and I am still trying to finish writing all my notes to say thank you for the presents and making my party a very special occasion which neither of us will forget!  

In spite of taking great care transporting presents back home, the labels/cards became detached from two bottles of wine and two bunches of flowers. If these were from you, then I'm sorry not to be able to write to you personally to say thank you, but it's heart felt, none the less!  Amazingly, many of the flowers are still looking good and the remaining balloons are still decorating the ceiling in the front room!

I had hoped to tell you all about Steve's flying experience in today's blog - he was due to loop-the-loop in a Chipmunk airplane this afternoon.  However, the cloud cover is too low today, so the experience has been postponed again, but hopefully not for long this time....check back soon!  

The wheels of the legal system are grinding along slowly. At the end of June, papers were served on the County Council (education authority) and Oxford Brookes University (now an independent body) in relation to Steve's exposure to asbestos when he demolished partitions to create a big open-plan studio for the School of Architecture at the Polytechnic, when he was a student back in 1971.  Defences from both parties have been received, both seeking to shift responsibility on to the other for the liabilities of the old polytechnic. 

We are now waiting for a date from the court for a hearing at which directions will be given for the further progress of the case.  In the meantime, our solicitor has set up a case conference with the barrister in Birmingham next month to go through the defences in detail and Steve has answered questions raised by Brookes solicitors arising from his statement.  

The defendant's firm, Berrymans Lace Mawer, specializes in serving the insurance industry.  Their approach to occupational disease claims, including asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, notes that such claims often arise from a workplace where many employees were exposed to the same regime and there is always the potential for "tail" claims to follow from the first claim. Their website goes on to state "for this reason, it is often advisable to consider an 'economic settlement' in isolation, without taking into account the workplace and the potential for similar claims."  That seems to suggest a preference for out-of-court-settlements where there is more than one potential claimant, as in Steve's case.  With the benefit of that knowledge, it will be interesting to see how this case progresses.

Our solicitor has a rather different view of damages in relation to mesothelioma.  In an article written in June 2010, he says:

One cannot possibly assess the effect of receiving a diagnosis of cancer. However, with many forms of the illness there is a degree of hope of “beating” the condition. Mesothelioma, unfortunately, is not one of those.  Life expectancy is, in the main, between six and 18 months.  The sufferer knows that the condition will prove fatal and that life sentence is severely limited.  Whilst one can attach some understanding to the valuation of the vast majority of injuries and illnesses within the personal injury context, none of us, who are free of the condition, can truly value the damages for this condition....

.....The assessment of general damages for a condition which the claimant knows will imminently end his life is fraught with problems. There is a clear danger of demonstrating a remarkable degree of insensitivity to the plight of the sufferer/deceased. Calibrating the scale of damages by reference simply to the duration of pain, some of which, in the early stages, may be relatively mild is wholly unsatisfactory. 

The mesothelioma sufferer will invariably have a “horrible” end to his life. The mental anguish cannot be calculated or understood. Whilst accepting that no amount of money can possibly compensate for the knowledge of one’s imminent death it would, in my opinion, be far better to award a single figure for pain, suffering and loss of amenity ... to all sufferers of the condition, irrespective of their ultimate life expectancy and/or the medical investigations that they have to undergo.  Putting a dying man or his widow into court to listen to lawyers debate the extent of his pain is improper and reflects badly on the law and our society.

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