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Negligence does not have to be the sole cause of injury or death in order to entitle victims or their loved ones to compensation in full. The High Court made that point in the case of a man who was suffering from asbestos-related cancer when he died from heart failure.
After the man's widow launched proceedings, his former employer admitted that it bore responsibility for his negligent exposure to asbestos during a three-year period in the 1970s. It also accepted that it was liable for any damage arising from his contraction of mesothelioma, an incurable form of lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure. In disputing the amount of the award, however, it pointed out that he had not died directly from the disease but from a cardiac arrest.
In ruling on the case, the Court found that, had it not been for the mesothelioma, the man would have undergone coronary bypass surgery that would probably have averted the fatal heart attack. Had it been possible to carry out the operation, and had he not been suffering from mesothelioma, the likelihood was that he would have survived for another 20 years.
The inability to perform the surgery had roughly doubled his risk of death from heart disease. The mesothelioma had thus caused or contributed to his death and, although there might have been other competing causes, his widow was entitled to be fully compensated for the consequences of his death. The amount of her award has yet to be calculated.