Sykes v Ministry of Defence: QBD 19 Mar 1984

The claimant was exposed to asbestos whilst working for the defendant in the naval dockyard at Portsmouth, and sought damages having developed pleural plaques, but no further damage was expected, save ‘a slightly increased risk of developing a lung cancer and a definite increased risk of developing mesothelioma’. The plaintiff also sought damages for his anxiety.
Held: The change in the structure of the pleura constituted by the pleural plaques amounted to a ‘significant and definite degree of damage’ which could not be treated as minimal or negligible and which entitled the plaintiff to compensation as he had established ‘actual damage.’ Rejecting the defence that this did not yet constitute damage: ‘there has been a definite change in the structure of the pleura due to the presence of the asbestos. In my judgment that amounts to a significant and definite degree of damage which entitled the Plaintiff to compensation as he has established actual damage . . he is entitled to be compensated not only for the physical damage . . but also for the aspect of anxiety which seems to me to have a connection with physical damage, to be entirely genuine and thoroughly understandable in a person who has worked in such conditions and has known his workmates to die in the circumstances that he has described. I have also come to the conclusion that he is entitled to be compensated for the risks of lung cancer and mesothelioma.’


Otton J


Unreported, 19 March 1984, Times 23-Mar-1984


England and Wales


CitedChurch v Ministry of Defence QBD 23-Feb-1984
The 62 year old claimant sought damages after working in in the defendant’s dockyard and being exposed to asbestos. Pleural plaques were apparent on X-ray and the pleura would constrict the lung and induce breathlessness; and the asbestos must have . .

Cited by:

CitedRothwell v Chemical and Insulating Co Ltd and Another CA 26-Jan-2006
Each claimant sought damages after being exposed to asbestos dust. The defendants resisted saying that the injury alleged, the development of pleural plaques, was yet insufficient as damage to found a claim.
Held: (Smith LJ dissenting) The . .
CitedJohnston v NEI International Combustion Ltd; Rothwell v Chemical and Insulating Co Ltd; similar HL 17-Oct-2007
The claimant sought damages for the development of neural plaques, having been exposed to asbestos while working for the defendant. The presence of such plaques were symptomless, and would not themselves cause other asbestos related disease, but . .
CitedMinistry of Defence v AB and Others SC 14-Mar-2012
The respondent Ministry had, in 1958, conducted experimental atmospheric explosions of atomic weapons. The claimants had been obliged as servicemen to observe the explosions, and appealed against dismissal of their claims for radiation sickness . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Personal Injury

Updated: 21 May 2022; Ref: scu.238194