If you, or someone close to you, have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, you may be eligible to make an asbestos compensation claim. In this guide, we provide information about asbestos, the conditions that exposure to asbestos can cause, who is most at risk and the claim process.
• What is asbestos?
• What illnesses and conditions can be caused by exposure to asbestos?
• What are the symptoms of an asbestos-related disease?
• Who is most at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness?
• Who can make an asbestos-related compensation claim?
• The asbestos claim process
• Support for those affected by an asbestos-related illness
What is asbestos?
The term asbestos describes a group of several naturally occurring minerals with a fibrous structure. They all have fine, long, parallel fibres or bundles which make them very strong and flexible whilst also being resistant to heat and fire. It was these properties that made asbestos ideal for so many purposes that it was given the name “the magic mineral”.
Asbestos was used as an insulation material in residential and commercial properties and may still be found in any residential or industrial building built or refurbished before the year 2000. Its uses also included pipe and boiler lagging, fire retardant boards and sprayed coatings, cement sheets, ropes and yarns, roofing and even car brake pads, amongst many others.
For many years, asbestos use was not regulated, but when the dangers became known, employers and factory owners became under a duty to protect others from breathing in asbestos fibres. However, it was not until 1985 that the importation and use of blue and brown asbestos was banned in the UK. In 1992, some uses of white asbestos were also banned, but it was as late as 1999 when the use and importation of white asbestos was banned altogether.
Most of us are exposed to some asbestos from the environment during the course of our lives, but it is the heavier and more prolonged and repeated exposure that tends to cause the damage. It is when asbestos products are disturbed that the danger arises, as the microscopic fibres become airborne and can be inhaled where they become lodged in the lungs. Once there, the fibres may lie unnoticed for many years before any illness develops.
What illnesses and conditions can be caused by exposure to asbestos?
It usually takes between 20 and 40 years from exposure to asbestos for an illness to arise, although it can be as short as 10 years and as long as 60 years or more. Although some people will never suffer any disease as a result of contact with asbestos, the number of people diagnosed with asbestos illnesses is expected to peak over the next decade.
Asbestos-related illnesses can range from mild and benign to severe and life threatening. Although some asbestos fibres may be expelled from the lungs by natural mechanisms, some may become lodged and remain in the lungs throughout life, where they may cause harm many years later.
Asbestos can cause the following conditions:
Mesothelioma – This is a type of cancer that is sometimes called malignant mesothelioma, but it is often referred to as simply mesothelioma. It is a tumour that most commonly grows in the pleura (or membrane) that lines the lung and this is known as pleural mesothelioma. The layers of pleura thicken as a result of the tumour and begin to press inwards on the lung.
Asbestosis – This is a disease that is characterised by fibrosis (or scarring) and inflammation of the lung tissue. Heavy asbestos exposure is usually required to produce asbestosis, which is an irreversible condition.
Asbestos-related lung cancer – Asbestos can cause the same type of lung cancer that is caused by smoking and is treated in the same way.
Diffuse pleural thickening – This is where there is widespread thickening, rather like scarring, of the pleura (or membrane) that lines the lung. It is caused by asbestos fibres that have made their way from the lungs and into the lining.
Pleural effusion – This is a build up of the fluid between the two layers of pleura (membrane) which line the lung. Treatment of this condition may include draining of the lung to relieve the symptoms.
Pleural plaques – Pleural plaques are small areas of thickening, rather like scarring, of the pleura (or membrane) that lines the lung. The plaques themselves are harmless and do not usually cause any symptoms or require treatment, which is why you cannot usually claim compensation for this condition.
What are the symptoms of an asbestos-related illness?
These can vary, depending on the condition, but common complaints include:
• A tight feeling in the chest
• Chest pain
• A cough that won’t go away
• Fatigue or tiredness without an obvious cause
• Weight loss
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should visit their GP for advice.
Who is most at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness?
Before it was banned, many tradespeople came into contact with asbestos when working in industry and the building trade. Some, such as laggers and plumbers, were involved in handling and applying asbestos on a daily basis and had very heavy exposure to the asbestos dust that was created as a result. Others, such as electricians and welders, worked alongside colleagues who were using asbestos and so they became exposed to asbestos dust, sometimes without ever handling it themselves at all. Sadly, even some spouses and families of workers were endangered by the asbestos brought home on their loved ones’ work clothing.
The Health and Safety Executive states that asbestos still kills around 5,000 workers each year, which is more than the number of people killed on the road. Around 20 tradespeople die in the UK every week, including, on average, four plumbers, six electricians and eight joiners, meaning that it is also the single biggest cause of work-related deaths.
With asbestos still being present in so many of the buildings that we are in and around on a daily basis, there are dangers for anyone who might disturb the material, which most commonly happens during renovations or demolition. This means that builders and those working in building maintenance and improvements need to take the correct precautions if there is a risk of asbestos being present, in order to protect themselves and others from exposure.
Who can make an asbestos-related compensation claim?
Many people who develop an asbestos-related illness recall being exposed to asbestos in their workplace due to their employer failing to provide them with adequate protection from the asbestos dust. In these cases, it is often possible to make a claim against the employer, even if they are no longer in business.
You may still be able to claim even if your contact with asbestos was not at work, for example, if you were exposed to asbestos dust from work clothes belonging to a family member or if you lived near to a factory where asbestos was used.
Where a loved one has sadly died, it is also possible in many cases for family members to bring a claim for asbestos compensation after their death, on behalf of their estate and any dependants.
However, there are time limits associated with making claims for asbestos-related diseases, whether the claim is for yourself or on behalf of a loved one who has died. For this reason, it is important not to delay and to seek specialist advice as soon as possible.
If you want to know if you have a valid claim for yourself or on behalf of a relative, please don’t hesitate to contact Dedicated Accident Solicitors on 01332 897 222 or message us here.
The asbestos claim process
The process of making a compensation claim for an asbestos-related illness requires specialist asbestos solicitors due to the many obstacles that need to be overcome in order to succeed. This is because there is usually a very long gap between when the exposure took place and when the victim is diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness. During that time, employers can cease trading, their insurers may be difficult to trace, memories have faded, witnesses to the asbestos exposure may have passed away, documents may have been lost or destroyed and so on. Here at Dedicated Accident Solicitors, we have expert knowledge and many years of experience in overcoming these difficulties and succeeding in cases that other solicitors have turned away.
Initial enquiries for an asbestos claim
The claim process usually begins with a call to one of our friendly and experienced asbestos solicitors, who will come and see you at home to chat about your potential claim for compensation. There is no need to worry if you are unsure about exactly when you or your family member had contact with asbestos, as we can help by undertaking investigations into this.
We will obtain details of the asbestos victim’s employment history from HM Revenue & Customs and we will undertake research into their former employers, including a search for the insurance company that insured each employer at the time of the asbestos exposure. We will also approach former employers for occupational records and, where possible, we will take statements from former work colleagues. We will also draft statements for you and any family members who are able to comment on the exposure to asbestos. Medical records will be obtained and an initial opinion on the asbestos-related condition may be obtained from a specialist consultant.
In addition to bringing a civil claim for compensation, we can also assist with claims for payments from certain government benefit schemes.
Letter of claim for asbestos compensation
Once our investigations are complete, and assuming they are positive, we will send a letter of claim to your former employers or their insurers, informing them of the claim and the circumstances giving rise to it. This will put the claim on to a more formal footing and it will then proceed according to a protocol. A protocol is a formal procedure which explains the conduct and sets out the steps that the parties should take before commencing court proceedings.
Once the letter of claim has been sent to the employers or their insurers, they have 21 days within which to acknowledge it and a further 90 days within which to investigate the claim and to either admit or deny liability for it.
In due course, a detailed medical report will be required from a specialist consultant who will report on your asbestos-related condition, or that of your family member, and the cause of it. The consultant will also report on your likely condition and prognosis had you not been exposed to asbestos. In addition, we will gather together details of all of the losses and expenses associated with the asbestos-related illness, such as travelling expenses, equipment costs and the value of any care and assistance required. This will enable us to prepare a schedule of losses to send to the opponent in the case.
Asbestos claim settlement or court hearing
Most successful asbestos claims are settled by negotiation without court proceedings ever needing to be issued. In some cases, we are able to obtain an early payment, called an interim payment, which is paid before the final settlement can be calculated and agreed. We will discuss all settlement options with you as the case progresses.
It is only if the responsible party is not prepared to settle your claim for asbestos-related disease compensation that court proceedings may need to be issued. However, it is very rare for victims or their families to have to attend court in order to secure compensation for asbestos exposure.
The timescale for asbestos compensation claims
The amount of time that a successful claim takes depends on the circumstances of each individual case and whether the responsible party is amenable to settlement. We will keep you advised of the progress and timescales applicable to your particular case as it proceeds. In some cases, we have managed to obtain interim payments for our clients within six months from instruction, although it usually takes much longer to reach a final settlement, as there is a lot of ground to cover and it is important that nothing is missed.
Support for those affected by an asbestos-related illness
For those who have been given a diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease, and their loved ones, the news can come as a real shock, and it can be a time when you need some expert help and advice in many areas. In addition to bringing a claim for compensation, we can put you in touch with support groups and charities, which can offer practical information, as well as emotional support.
If you would like legal advice or information on any aspect of making a claim for asbestos compensation, get in touch with Dedicated Accident Solicitors on 01332 897 222 or message us here.