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Newbold v Ministry of Defence, Queen's Bench Division, 27 June 2002

9 July 2002
The issues

Fibrosing Alveolitis – exposure to petrol and diesel fumes.

The facts

This was a claim made by the Estate and the Dependant on behalf of C who had died at the age of 64 from bronchopneumonia, which was secondary to chronic Fibrosing Alveolitis. He had been employed for just over 40 years by the Defendant as a motor mechanic. Over that time, he had had to fill fuel tanks, which he did by syphoning from a can. Over this time, he had inhaled petrol and diesel fumes.

An issue arose as to whether the inhalation of fumes had been responsible for his condition, amongst other issues relevant to liability.

The decision

1. Although the Defendants had been negligent in exposing the Claimant to an unsafe system of work, it could not be shown on a balance of probabilities that the exposure to the fumes had caused the Fibrosingalveolitis. The medical evidence connecting the two was weak and fell far short of being a probability in the current state of medical knowledge.

2. Even if it had been a probable, rather than a merely possible association between fumes and the condition that C had died from, the clinical picture fitted a well established pattern and age/sex profile for cryptogenic Fibrosing Alveolitis (ie Fibrosing Alveolitis with no known cause).

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