The Liverpool Echo has reported that a former shoe shop worker who has mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos dust in a Liverpool department store in the 1970s will not receive compensation. Marie McGregor has received a top judge’s ‘enormous sympathy’ – but not a penny in compensation.
Marie McGregor, 58, was aged 15 when she went to work at Lewis’s Department Store, in Ranelagh Street, Liverpool. She was employed the British Shoe Corporation (BSC) which operated a concession there.
The exposure to asbestos occurred in 1976 when workmen arrived to replace the store’s escalators.
The work took place whilst the store was fully open to the public and Mrs McGregor, who lives in Bolton, described an atmosphere laden with white dust.
Although she was too ill to testify in person, she gave recorded evidence in which she described a fine layer of powder gathering on glass shelves and shoes which she constantly had to dust away.
More than 35 years later, in 2012, Mrs McGregor was tragically diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs which is notorious for its slowness to develop and for the agony suffered by its victims.
Mrs McGregor sued BSC’s successor, Genco (FC) Limited, claiming not enough had been done to protect her from the dangerous threat of asbestos.
Mrs Justice Patterson rejected the company’s claims that Mrs McGregor might have come into contact with asbestos dust from her father’s work overalls in the family home during her early youth.
The judge also accepted that her employers had been under a duty to protect her against asbestos and that it was probably exposure during the escalator replacement work that had caused her condition.
However, Mrs McGregor’s substantial damages claim failed at the final hurdle when the judge ruled her employers had not been negligent.
The scene of the works had probably been covered by a floor-to-ceiling barrier, she said.
Although that would not be considered anywhere near good enough today, given modern knowledge of the grave risk posed by asbestos, the case had to be judged by the safety standards applied in the mid-1970s.
Staff in the store’s footwear section had been ’caused a nuisance’ by the escape of small amounts of dust from behind the barrier.
But the judge ruled: “I am unable to accept that during 1976 when the escalator work was being carried out that the defendant should have appreciated that Mrs McGregor was at risk of an asbestos-related injury.”
Mrs Justice Patterson concluded: “Whilst I have enormous sympathy for Mrs McGregor, who clearly contracted mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure at work, it is with regret, but without any hesitation, that I find that her claim against the defendant must fail”.