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The English Electric Company Limited v Alstom UK Limited

On 20 May 2015, HHJ Mackie QC handed down his last written judgment in The English Electric Company Limited v Alstom UK Limited [2015] EWHC 924 (QB).  The claim concerned the extent to which the ultimate responsibility for an historic asbestos claim could be passed up a chain of sale and purchase agreements.  Mr Rodney Oliver was exposed to asbestos whilst working for Associated Electrical Industries (“AEI”) at their turbine manufacturing factory in Rugby in the 1960s.  He developed mesothelioma and died in August 2005.  His widow was paid substantial damages by AEI.  AEI had, however, sold the turbine business to its sister company, The English Electric Company Limited (“EE”), in 1970, who in turn had sold it to Alstom UK Limited (“Alstom”) in 1989.  The main issue in the case was whether, as a matter of construction, EE was liable to indemnify AEI under the 1970 sale and purchase agreement (it was common ground that, if it were, Alstom was liable to indemnify EE under the 1989 sale and purchase agreement).  HHJ Mackie QC held that EE was liable to indemnify AEI and the claim against Alstom succeeded.  The judgment also contains interesting comments on the point at which time starts to run for the purposes of limitation when a claim is brought under a contractual indemnity, the application of the maxim omnia praesumuntur contra spoliatorem and the relevance of the guidance in Canada Steamship Lines Ltd v R. [1952] AC 192 when construing an agreement between sister companies.

David Lewis QC and Thomas Corby acted for the claimant.