Personal Injury

Widow receives £330,000 damages following husband’s death from mesothelioma linked to asbestos exposure working as air conditioning engineer in 70s and 80s

Colin Harper

Terry Wilcox

Associate Solicitor and Manager of Public Inquiries

6 min read time
05 Oct 2021

The widow of a man who died of mesothelioma having been exposed to asbestos at work in the 70s and 80s has told how her husband insisted on pursuing compensation for her – resulting in a £330,000 damages settlement after his death.

Colin Harper had worked as an apprentice air conditioning engineer in London and throughout his career was exposed to asbestos lagged pipes when removing and upgrading systems, working without any suitable protection.

He started to fall unwell over the festive period in 2016, when he and his wife Julie were living in New Zealand. The couple had formed a whole new life there having emigrated in 1996, and had later been followed by their son Lee, who also lived there with his wife and their three children.

Mr Harper’s illness was found to be as the result of mesothelioma, a malignant tumour caused by inhaling asbestos, which has a life-expectancy of around 12 months.

Advised by treating physicians in New Zealand to seek treatment back in the UK, where the condition is more commonly treated, the couple sold up their home and moved back to Thatcham, Berkshire.

However, after a period of chemotherapy treatment, Mr Harper passed away, aged 63, in February 2018.

His wife says she has been left struggling to cope ever since, but has now been awarded the damages settlement thanks to the support of specialist law firm Hudgell Solicitors.

“Colin’s death has had a huge impact on my life and if I am honest at times it has been difficult to think of just getting through the day,” said Mrs Harper, 68.

“Life changed so quickly for us. He started to become tired and lacking energy, and that was not like him as he was always on the go and used to enjoy activities such as jet-skiing.

“I can remember saying to him that he looked very ill. He went for a game of golf and was brought home by his friend as he couldn’t complete the round and was struggling to breathe.

“He went to hospital and called me that afternoon saying he was staying in overnight as doctors had told him he was very sick. The next day I went to hospital and they told me he was on the cancer ward and that it was suspected mesothelioma. It was a death sentence effectively.

“When the specialists suggested we come back to the UK as doctors over here would be more experienced in treating it, we didn’t hesitate. Colin wanted us to come back as he thought there would be a greater support network around us.

“Colin had a lot of family in the UK but my family and life was still in New Zealand.

“Colin instigated the legal claim initially for compensation. I couldn’t face it really. It didn’t seem right to me and I found myself struggling to discuss money when all I wanted was for somebody to tell me my husband wasn’t going to die.

“Colin was insistent though and now I know he was looking out for me, as I’d never worked in all the time we were in New Zealand.”

Accident at work claim brought to successful conclusion by Hudgell Solicitors

The legal case, originally led by another law firm, involved three defendant specialist refrigeration companies based in Newbury and Milton Keyes – Risby of Newbury Ltd, Kennet Refrigeration and ML Refrigeration – which Mr Harper worked for between 1968 and 1980.

It alleged they had each exposed him to risk by working with asbestos without protection during has career, including a period of time working at Heathrow Airport.

Despite legal representatives of the defendants agreeing to handle the claim, Mrs Harper had not received any news about a potential settlement being reached years after her husband’s death.

Her case was then transferred to Hudgell Solicitors, with experienced mesothelioma claims lawyer Terry Wilcox leading the claim on her behalf.

“I’d lost confidence in the previous law firm and the lawyer looking after me so it was good that the case went to Hudgells,” she said.

“Terry was surprised that, despite legal representatives agreeing to deal with the claim, we’d not progressed to a settlement and he said to me that we should have had money when Colin was still alive.

“He said he’d work over Christmas to ensure everything was in place and that we could start moving toward bringing the case to a conclusion. Terry was fantastic, a really lovely man and he and the barrister who worked with him gave me so much more advice and support in terms of reaching the settlement we did.”

Julie says she is now hoping to be able to use the settlement to travel back to New Zealand regularly and see her son Lee, grandson Eden and two step-children Violet and Otto grow up.

“Our youngest son tragically died some years ago, so now I have found myself in a position where I have lost my home in New Zealand which I loved, lost my husband and one of my sons, and the family I have are thousands of miles away,” she said.

“I haven’t been able to go back to New Zealand before now because I have of course been seeing through the legal case, which in many ways has kept Colin alive and with me in my mind, and then there have been all the restrictions due to Covid.

“Hopefully now though I will be able to go back. The money I’ve received won’t be touched until I can look at doing something like that. At least it gives me something I can look forward to after a horrendous four years.”

Interim damages available in mesothelioma cases to support claimant

Mr Wilcox said he was pleased to have brought the case to a satisfactory conclusion for Mrs Harper, but said more should have been done before he took over the handling of the case to support her and her husband.

“In mesothelioma cases there is a special protocol for living claimants whereby an application can be made to a specialist disease court to secure an interim payment of £50,000. This is provided to help the claimant whilst they are still alive,” he said.

“This didn’t happen in this case as the previous legal firm only submitted a claim after Colin had passed away, so Julie was only offered £20,000 prior to her final settlement.

“Action was pursued for the risk Mr Harper was exposed to given the risk of asbestos has been known since the 1930s.

“Although of course no amount of compensation can turn back the clock or lessen the impact of losing her husband, I hope it can help Mrs Harper in her future life, and hopefully in being able to spend more time back in New Zealand with her family.”

Hudgell Solicitors secured settlement for the whole case with insurers, without any defendant admitting liability.

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Widow receives £330,000 damages following husband’s death from mesothelioma linked to asbestos exposure working as air conditioning engineer in 70s and 80s

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