Family awarded damages from university after grandmother died from asbestos-related cancer

The family of a former photography technician have been awarded damages by a university after she contracted a cancer associated with asbestos exposure and later died, lawyers say.

Judith King
Judith King

Judith King went to work at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in the mid-1970s and worked in the Art and Design School between 1975 and 1999. Employed as a photography technician, she was involved in handling and developing photographs the students had taken.

But in 1985 she read a newspaper article about the Polytechnic building she had worked in being closed due to the discovery of asbestos.

The grandmother-of-two, who had lived in Wolverhampton before moving to Buckinghamshire later in life, first started to feel unwell in March 2020 and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in July 2020.

Following her diagnosis, she instructed specialist asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate how she was exposed to asbestos.

However, she died in June 2021, aged 79, before she could see her case concluded.

Judith’s family took on her quest for answers, with their legal team issuing High Court proceedings against the University of Wolverhampton, which succeeded the former polytechnic.

Irwin Mitchell said a judge agreed to enter judgment against the university, meaning it was liable for Judith’s exposure and death, and the court ordered that the university make an interim payment of damages to Judith’s family.

However, the family say they are still waiting for the payment and legal discussions are continuing. Meanwhile, they are also marking Action Mesothelioma Day on July 1 by warning others of the dangers of asbestos.

Speaking about her grandmother, Rebecca Jacques said: “She spoke about her job at the Polytechnic and before she was unwell, she reflected fondly about her time there. Nan was so loved by so many people and her loss remains difficult to accept. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of her, of how much she enjoyed helping others and her great sense of fun. There’s a real sense of pride in what she did but also a hole in our lives now she is no longer with us.

“To lose our nan to this awful disease is a tragedy. Our upset at the university’s failure to comply by making the payment ordered by the court adds to the pain and insult that we as a family have gone through.”

“Hopefully by speaking out we can make more people aware of the dangers of asbestos and at the same time, see these issues resolved and allow our nan to finally rest in peace.”

Emma Guy, the asbestos-related-disease expert at Irwin Mitchell supporting Judith’s family, said: “It’s nearly two years since Judith first instructed me to investigate her case and it was cruel that she didn’t live to see the successful conclusion she had set her heart on.

“Judith’s family remain understandably devastated by her death which is yet another tragic reminder of the terrible legacy asbestos has created. While many people may associate the use of asbestos with heavy industry its use was widespread and the material is still present in many public buildings including schools, colleges and universities as well as hospitals.”

“Judith’s family are disappointed at the university’s stance throughout and that rather than admitting liability the case had to be taken to the High Court for them to get the justice Judith deserved.

“We continue to support the family at this distressing time and call on the university to work with us to resolve the case, allowing Judith’s family to try and move on from what’s happened the best they can.”

Samantha Waters, chief compliance officer at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “Following the High Court’s decision that Judith King was likely to have been exposed to asbestos during her time working at the Polytechnic over 40 years ago, the university has been working closely with our insurers and legal advisors in relation to finding a swift resolution for the family.

“The university is fully insured for instances such as these and we are following due process, taking into account the historical nature of the case.”

“We extend our condolences to Judith’s family for their loss and would like to reassure them of our efforts to collectively bring this to a timely and satisfactory conclusion.”

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