In Thompson v Renwick Group plc [2014] EWCA Civ 635 Mr Thompson was exposed to asbestos whilst working for his employer, a transport haulage company, during the mid-1970s. As a result of the exposure he developed diffuse pleural thickening. At the relevant time, his employer was a subsidiary of Renwick but it had long since dissolved and no relevant insurer could be ascertained. The claim for damages was therefore brought against Renwick, alleging that it owed a duty of care directly to Mr Thompson. At first instance, before HHJ Platts, Mr Thompson succeeded. Simon Plaut and Robert Weir QC (of Devereux Chambers), instructed by Bond Dickinson LLP, have succeeded in overturning that judgment.

The first issue in the appeal was whether the Appellant owed a duty of care by virtue of the fact that it had nominated a person to be a director of the subsidiary company with responsibility for health and safety matters. The trial judge had determined that this factual matrix was sufficient to form the basis for a duty of care to be imposed on the parent. That conclusion was considered unsupportable by the Court of Appeal: the duty owed by the director of the subsidiary was to the subsidiary alone and there was no basis upon which it could be concluded that the director ran the subsidiary on behalf of the parent.

The second issue was whether the totality of the evidence permitted a conclusion that a duty of care should be imposed on the parent, following the three stage test in Caparo v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 and, in particular the recent authority of Cape v Chandler [2012]. The trial judge had concluded that evidence as to the intermingling of the businesses, the interchangeable use of depots and the shared use of resources were sufficient to mean that the parent company had imposed a duty of care. The Court of Appeal disagreed: they amounted to no more than a finding that these companies were operating as a division of the group carrying on a single business. The evidence fell far short of what was required to impose a duty of care on a parent company.

The full judgment here.

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