The widower of a mother-of-three, killed by cancer after years of asbestos exposure whilst working at Guy’s Marsh Prison, Dorset has won almost £650,000 damages from the Ministry of Justice.
Sally Knauer died aged 46 in August 2009 – five months after she was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma resulting from ‘occupational exposure to asbestos in the workplace.’ It is believed she came into contact with asbestos while working as an administrator at Guy’s Marsh Prison in Shaftsbury.
Her husband’s solicitor, Brigitte Chandler of Swindon law firm Charles Lucas & Marshall and one of the UK’s leading authorities on asbestos related litigation, said evidence for the case was particularly hard to obtain as prison staff has been instructed not to give statements.
“The attitude of the prison and the Ministry of Defence – who issued a full statement denying they had exposed Mrs Knauer to asbestos – was particularly unhelpful and was criticised by the Master giving direction in the case,” said Brigitte Chandler.
Mrs Knauer worked at the prison between 1997 and 2007. Workmen were working with asbestos in open environments and Mrs Knauer probably came into contact with the asbestos simply by walking past it.
After her diagnosis she endured radical surgery but died in Yeovil Hospital in August 2009, leaving her husband, Ian, of Gillingham, Dorset and three adult sons.
On Mr Knauer’s behalf, Brigitte Chandler prepared the case to sue the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for failing to protect his wife from the well documented hazards of exposure to asbestos dust.
Initially, the MoJ indicated that because Mrs Knauer’s cancer started so soon after her exposure it could not have come from the prison. However following the production of witness statements, by Brigitte Chandler, from people who had worked in the prison, the Ministry indicated they would accept liability and agreed to judgment being entered against them and a £50,000 interim payment.
The case came before Mr Justice Bean in the High Court on 10th and 11th July. The judge initially reserved judgment before awarding Mr Knauer the sum of £647,840.51.
“The court was asked to assess the cost of replacing all the household services that Mrs Knauer had provided,” added Brigitte Chandler. “In addition, damages include some loss of income that she would have brought into the family plus damages for the pain and suffering she went through.”
Brigitte Chandler said it was an interesting case as it was difficult to pin-point the exact time Mrs Knauer was exposed to asbestos as the exposure took place over a period of ten years when she was working at the prison and was unaware of what workmen were doing as she passed by in the corridors.
“It took many painstaking hours of work to find the evidence to pin-point how she had been exposed,” said Brigitte Chandler. “It was also an interesting case because the court was asked to value the services a woman provides for her husband and children. Mrs Knauer was a devoted wife and mother, very house proud and spent many hours caring for her family. The court have now given her a proper reward for the loss of those services.
“Damages here are exceptionally high particularly in view of the fact that Sally was only in her 40s when she became ill. The majority of people suffering from mesothelioma fortunately don’t get the illness often until they are in their 60s or 70s – and damages are much lower.”
Swindon and South West Asbestos Group is a regional charity formed about 11 years ago, providing information and support groups for asbestos sufferers and their families.
For further information contact Brigitte Chandler on 01793 511055 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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