Landlord not liable for tenant’s death from asbestos exposure
The landlord of a flat containing asbestos was not responsible for the death of a tenant who suffered from malignant mesothelioma.
That was the decision of the High Court in a case involving the family of the tenant and Hammersmith Council.
A claim for damages had been brought by the tenant’s widow. She believed her husband’s death was accelerated by four years by his exposure to asbestos during his tenancy of a flat owned by the council.
She said he was exposed to fibres in several ways: he was a meticulous housekeeper, who redecorated the flat once a year, stripping walls and ceilings and sanding them down; asbestos floor tiles were worn and disintegrating; and the installation of central heating had disturbed asbestos.
The court ruled that the deceased had not been exposed to a level of asbestos fibres in the flat above background levels.
The mere presence of asbestos did not, on its own, present a material risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. The council had a duty to warn tenants that they should not carry out works that carried a risk of disturbing the asbestos material. It had issued such a warning in 2005.
Such a duty did not arise in respect of the cleaning and decorating activities carried out by the deceased, which did not involve any abrasive techniques that breached the textured coating on the ceilings.
On the facts, the deceased was not exposed to asbestos fibres during his cleaning and decoration of the flat. Accordingly, the council was not in breach of its duty of care.
Please contact Janice Young if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of commercial property law.