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Exeter building company awards Birmingham man settlement 50 years after exposure to lethal asbestos

A Birmingham man who believes he was exposed to asbestos for just two weeks in Devon in the mid 1960s has secured compensation following a forensic investigation to trace the company he believed was responsible.

Posted on 24 January 2022

Herbert Brian Lovell, known as Brian, was diagnosed with the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma, more than 50 years after an alleged intense exposure to the lethal substance for 14 days between 1965 and 1966.

He believes the exposure happened while he was employed by E.B.C. & Sleeman Limited, working as a carpenter to refurbish the Dorothy Perkins store in Exeter High Street.  

Brian’s work included cutting up and nailing asbestos sheets, a process which generated dense clouds of asbestos dust, which covered his hair, face and hands and which was impossible to avoid breathing in.

There was no extraction or ventilation system in place.  Brian ate lunch and took breaks where he worked and was under such pressure to finish the job quickly that on at least two occasions he slept overnight on the shop floor in the contaminated atmosphere. 

Following Brian’s mesothelioma diagnosis he turned for advice to Leigh Day asbestos claim specialist, partner Harminder Bains who took on the immense challenge of tracing the company believed to bear responsibility for his asbestos exposure and securing a settlement.

As far as Brian could recall, the company name was Exeter Building Contractors and was based in Exeter, but he had never gone to the company’s premises.  Harminder obtained the employment history from the Inland Revenue which incorrectly named the company EBC & Sloeman Limited.  


Photograph shows Brian and his wife Fel in happier times.

After considerable research Harminder traced the company which had changed its name several times, lastly to the number 00358466 Plc which made it extremely difficult to be traced.  She wrote several hundreds of letters to insurers and previous officers and employees mentioned in the company searches.  Eventually an employer’s liability insurer was identified and the legal claim was issued in the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Lawyers on behalf of E.B.C. & Sleeman fought the case vehemently, arguing that Brian was out of time for pursuing a case because he had previous lung problems.  They denied employing Brian and alleged they had incorrectly been sued.  

They stated that during the alleged period of employment an employer would not have known that there was a link between exposure to asbestos and mesothelioma and added that they were a small company and would not have been expected to have known of the dangers of asbestos.  

After the matter was set down for a trial, although E.B.C. & Sleeman did not accept liability they made an offer of compensation which was rejected by Brian. Thereafter, Harminder made a counter offer which put E.B.C & Sleeman under considerable pressure and which in essence gave them no option but to agree to pay substantial compensation.  
 
The Court thereafter approved the matter and made an Order.
 
Brian’s wife Fel said:

“We cannot praise Harminder and her team enough for her help in gaining substantial compensation for Brian’s sarcomatoid mesothelioma.  It was a rather difficult journey because, as you can imagine, gently encouraging my beloved 85 year old husband to remember facts about something which happened in his 20’s, needed much patience and reassurance!

“We found Harminder to be totally understanding, relentless in her pursuit of justice, and extremely easy to talk to.  With her professionalism, she led us through what could have been a harrowing experience, with care and kindness. She is simply the best!”
 
Harminder Bains said:

“Even though Brian was exposed to asbestos for a very short time, he should not have been exposed to asbestos at all. To add to the harm Brian believes was done by his ex-employer, that same ex-employer then attempted to discredit his evidence and persisted in their allegation that he had sued the wrong company.  From my experience, this is a common practice by former employers who fight these cases tooth and nail.  In addition, they change their company names on several occasions in an attempt to make it difficult to be traced.  This practice of companies being allowed to change their names needs to be addressed and companies’ names together with employer’s liability insurers details should be readily available to members of the public.  

“Brian was and continues to be supported by Asbestos Support Central England, I cannot praise the work of this support group enough. If it was not for their work, men and women like Brian would not be in a position to make any legal claim at all.”

Counsel who worked with Harminder were Robert Weir QC of Devereux Chambers and Patrick Kerr of 12 Kings Bench Walk.

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