Asbestos – Breach of duty of care – Contractors

Corus UK Ltd v (1) Cavendish (UK) Ltd (2) Cavendish Laboratories Ltd (3) Woods Building Services Ltd: QBD (Mr Justice Foskett): 7 August 2009

The claimant (C) claimed damages against the first defendant contractor (X) and the third defendant sub-­contractor (W) in respect of the removal of asbestos at office premises owned by C.

C had contracted with X for the removal of ceilings that had been sprayed with asbestos. The sprayed asbestos had also passed through the light wells in the ceilings and so there was some overspray on the concrete beams above the ceiling that was to be covered with a sealant rather than removed. However, the removal of the ceilings proved impractical due to their construction. X suggested a revised method that would involve leaving the old ceilings in place, scraping the asbestos from it and installing a new suspended ceiling underneath the old one. W carried out the works under X’s supervision. Ten years later, C found asbestos debris in the void between the old and new ceilings. It was agreed that the debris had probably been caused by the dragging of electrical cables over the old ceiling, which had resulted in the debris falling through the lighting wells onto the new ceiling. It was also agreed that it had been reasonable to adopt the revised method of work. C sought to recover the cost of remedial works. C argued that: (1) the advice from X had been inaccurate or misleading because under the revised method asbestos would be left on the underside of the old ceiling; (2) X and W were in breach of their duty of care in tort in failing to exercise reasonable skill and care in removing the asbestos-coated materials by leaving them in a disturbed and loose condition; (3) X owed a concurrent duty of care in tort to exercise reasonable skill and care in providing the services it had contracted to provide and was obliged to avoid causing economic loss and physical damage in doing so.

Held: (1) It had been known to C that, even under the original method, not all the asbestos would be removed. Under the revised method it must have been appreciated that a larger number of areas, including areas on the retained ceiling, would be sealed rather than removed. In the circumstances, X would not have given a guarantee that every single trace of asbestos would be removed.

(2) The works had been carried out competently. The debris had not come from the underside of the old ceiling but had been caused by the dragging of the cables over sealed areas of asbestos above the old ceiling.

(3) Even if the work had not been carried out competently, it could not be said to have damaged the property.

Judgment for defendants.

Michael Fealy (instructed by Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge UK) for the claimant; Oliver Campbell (instructed by Kennedys) for the first defendant; Yash Kulkarni (instructed by DRG Solicitors) for the third defendant.