|In a claim against a bank by a former employee for damages for mesothelioma, the employee’s recollection that branches where she had worked 30 to 40 years earlier had had asbestos suspended ceilings was not supported by the objective evidence of contemporaneous documentation.|
|The claimant (S) claimed damages for mesothelioma, which she claimed to have contracted as a result of exposure to asbestos fibres while employed by the defendant bank.
S had worked for the bank between 1978 and 1986 at branches on the Isle of Wight including Yarmouth and Freshwater. She alleged that there had been suspended ceilings made of asbestos tiles at both branches which had been disturbed in the course of maintenance to light fittings, shedding asbestos dust. She further alleged that she had attended the Yarmouth branch while building works, including removal of the asbestos ceiling, were carried out.
HELD: There was a stark conflict of evidence as to whether there had been suspended ceilings with asbestos tiles at either or both of the branches. Witnesses had tried to recall unremarkable details of the buildings after 30 to 40 years. However credible a witness’s testimony might seem, its reliability and accuracy had to be assessed against any objective evidence (see para.60 of judgment).
The recollection of S and witnesses called on her behalf as to building works at Yarmouth was shown to be wholly wrong when compared with documentary evidence. The court was therefore unable to accept her evidence as to the composition of the ceiling and its removal in her presence. The claim that there had been a suspended ceiling was contradicted by the evidence of the branch manager at the time. There was no documentary evidence to support any substantial refurbishment works. S had failed to establish, on the balance of probabilities, that there had been a suspended ceiling with asbestos tiles at Yarmouth (paras 68-80).
The evidence of S and the witnesses called on her behalf as to whether there had been an asbestos suspended ceiling at Freshwater had to be assessed against the contemporaneous documentation. That objective evidence did not support the presence of such a ceiling. S had failed to prove that fundamental element of her case. That conclusion was reinforced by the finding that S must have been wrong in her recollection of the ceiling at Yarmouth. There could be no finding that there had been any exposure to asbestos at either branch (paras 90, 100, 108).