Welcome back to CaseSnappy's "Decoding Judgements" series! We're here to unpack the ins and outs of notable legal cases, intending to help demystify intricate legal conclusions. In this entry, we're shedding light on the significant House of Lords decision in Barker v Corus  2 WLR 1027, a case that has significantly impacted tort law regarding mesothelioma claims in the UK.
Asbestos and Uncertainty: Facts of the Case
This pivotal case revolves around Mr. Barker, a claimant who developed mesothelioma, a deadly asbestos-related lung disease. He had worked for various employers, all of which negligently exposed him to asbestos. The difficult part was identifying which employer was responsible for his fatal illness. Despite this uncertainty, under tort law, his widow sought compensation from multiple employers for their negligence.
The Question of Liability: Issues in the Case
The central issue before the House of Lords was about the nature of the employers' liability. Should they shoulder the responsibility collectively, with each employer held jointly and severally liable? This would mean each would need to pay the full amount of damages. Conversely, should they be held severally liable, paying only a proportional amount based on each employer's contribution to the risk of developing the disease?
Navigating Proportional Responsibility: The Decision
The House of Lords ruled in favour of several liability. They declared that while it was challenging to identify the causative employer, it was feasible to approximate each employer's contribution to the total risk of illness. Thus, each defendant was held liable for a proportional amount of damages. This ruling later led to the enactment of the Compensation Act 2006, replacing several liability in mesothelioma claims with joint and several liability.
Lord Hoffmann's emphasised: “The defendant was a wrongdoer, it is true, and should not be allowed to escape liability altogether, but he should not be liable for more than the damage which he caused... the law should accept that position and attribute liability according to probabilities."
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The Barker v Corus case set a crucial precedent in tort law, shaping the principles of liability in complex cases concerning multiple negligent employers. With CaseSnappy's simplified case summaries, we strive to make legal understanding easier, whether you are a dedicated law learner or a seasoned legal professional.Get started
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