Court Of Session Confirms The Standard Of Evidence Required In Mesothelioma Claims

Robert Prescott v. The University of St Andrews [2016] CSOH 3

The case

The pursuer, Dr Robert Prescott, was a lecturer in psychology at St Andrews in the mid to late 1970s. From 1977 there was a substantial renovation of the Old Library in St Mary's Quad for the purpose of converting the building for use by the psychology department. Work took place over the course of around two and a half years.

After developing peritoneal mesothelioma in July 2012, Dr Prescott raised an action against the university alleging exposure to negligent quantities of asbestos dust during the renovation process. He had been involved in that process to the extent of advising on the layout of a new animal laboratory. He gave evidence to the effect that he visited the building site on 12 to 14 occasions during the construction phase and had been present when stripping out of the building was taking place. It was a building site, and dusty.

The University disputed that Dr Prescott had been present during stripping out. In cross-examination Dr Prescott confirmed that he had no responsibility for the workmen on site and would not have been there on a day to day basis. He agreed that one would normally expect stripping out to take place at the early stages of a project, but did not accept that it had taken place by the time he had been in the building. He had no explanation for why he had not confirmed this alleged asbestos exposure to his treating doctor at the time of his diagnosis, or in his benefits application completed shortly after his diagnosis.

John Reid, a ceiling fixer who had put in a suspended ceiling at the University gave evidence for Dr Prescott. He described the process of ripping out and replacing ceilings. He did not know Dr Prescott and had responded to an article about the case in The Sunday Post.

The evidence of an engineer, Karen McNeil of Cadogans, was also heard, in relation to knowledge of the dangers of asbestos in the late 1970s, and the extent of Dr Prescott's asbestos exposure. Mrs McNeill's opinion was that by that time there was no known safe level of exposure to asbestos dust. However, she was unable to quantify the pursuer's cumulative level of exposure. She could only give potential maximum levels, taken from the literature.

For the defender, Dr Moore-Gillon, an eminent consultant respiratory physician, explained that it was necessary to know the actual and cumulative levels of exposure. It is only once such an estimate has been made...

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