Mum killed by ‘husband cuddling her’ after hard day’s work in dusty clothes
A doting housewife’s cancer was ’caused by cuddles and washing her husband’s dusty clothes’, a court has heard.
Adrienne Sweeney spent 40 years cleaning her husband’s uniform after he returned home from a hard day’s work at a boiler-making factory.
But it has now been ruled the dust on the overalls exposed Adrienne to asbestos.
This week her family was awarded £247,000 in a groundbreaking legal case.
Lady Carmichael concluded that Adrienne was exposed to the substance when she laundered her hubby William’s overalls in the 1960s and gave him a cuddle when he came home from work.
Adrienne’s family has welcomed the judgement and said their mum had finally got justice.
Her daughter Kay Gibson said: “Our loving mother was hard working and lived to support her family and friends, like so many women in Scotland in the late 60s and early 70s.
“She supported her family by caring for her children and washing her husband’s overalls when he returned from a hard day’s work for employers who used deadly asbestos.
“These women, like our mother, were unaware how unsafe it was to be handling the asbestos dust which came from these work clothes or the contamination risk to their own and their families’ lungs.”
William, of Paisley, spent the 60s working as a fitter at a boiler-making factor in Renfrew. After coming home from work, William, who died in 2008 aged 71, would “cuddle” Adrienne while wearing overalls covered in dust and dirt.
Non-smoker Adrienne would then wash his clothes. It was while doing this that she was exposed to asbestos.
Yesterday, Lady Carmichael ruled this exposure “materially increased” the risk of Adrienne contracting mesothelioma – the illness which claimed her life in 2015. She was 75.
In a written judgement, the judge ruled that William’s former employers, Babcock International, should pay his and his wife’s surviving relatives damages.
Lady Carmichael wrote: “This is, so far as I can tell, the first case in this jurisdiction in which a proof has taken place dealing with secondary exposure – that is, exposure to someone in the home of an employee, alleged to have caused mesothelioma in a secondary victim.
"I am satisfied that the defenders failed to reduce the risk to the deceased. There was no safe known level of exposure.
“For the reasons set out, I am satisfied that the defenders negligently exposed the deceased to asbestos and materially increased the risk that she would develop mesothelioma.”
The landmark case was heard before the court last year. Adrienne’s children Kay, 54, of Paisley, Jan Sweeney, 52, of Moscow, Ayrshire, and William Sweeney, 50, of Beith, Ayrshire, originally sued Babcock for £50,000 as individuals.
Prior to her death, Adrienne gave a statement to a legal firm detailing her employment history and that of William.
The firm’s Joe McCluskey said Adrienne told him: “She said she knew there was asbestos dust on his overalls that she washed.”
McCluskey, 43, said he had met Adrienne at her home in June 2015 to take notes for a statement. He said: “She was emotional, understandably. She was very lucid and able to hold a conversation without any difficulty.”
Lawyers acting for Adrienne’s family argued that William’s employers should have done more to prevent his wife being exposed to the substance.
Babcock insisted the evidence to prove Adrienne’s claims was insufficient. They argued that it wasn’t clear whether and to what extent William was exposed to asbestos at their factory.
Advocate Neil Mackenzie told the court that there was nothing to suggest that warnings given to shipyards were given to factories such as a boiler plant. However, Lady Carmichael ruled in favour of the family.
She added: “I accept that Mr Sweeney brought dusty clothes home with him. Whether the deceased had any basis in her own knowledge or from discussion with Mr Sweeney for her statement that the clothing had asbestos dust on it, I do not know.
“I accept that the deceased shook out and washed Mr Sweeney’s work clothes in the manner described in her statement.
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"Her statement is imprecise as to the frequency with which she did so, but I infer from what she said that this was a regular occurrence, carried out throughout the different seasons and, on the balance of probabilities, at least weekly.
"I infer that the defenders knew or ought to have known that work clothes would be cleaned at home given that they did not provide clean clothing.”
The family’s lawyer, Nicola Macara from Thompsons Solicitors, said: “It is regrettable that Babcock International made the family go through the full court process hoping that, with all those central to the case being dead, they would successfully defend the action.
“Fortunately, we were able to lead credible and reliable evidence as a result of having taken both Adrienne’s and the late witness’ statements.
"This landmark case is a very positive outcome not only for the Sweeney family but for all Scots fighting to ensure that justice is done for sufferers of asbestos-related disease.”
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