Asbestos-related diseases cause around 5000 deaths in the UK every year. Helen Grady – asbestos specialist and Solicitor with Simpson Millar – answers your FAQs regarding this hazardous material and making an asbestos claim.
For many years now, Doctors have been warning that the death rate from illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos – mesothelioma in particular – has yet to peak. This is expected to occur between 2015 and 2020, when it is anticipated that 1 in every 100 men born during the 1940s will die of an asbestos induced cancer.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a silicate mineral, which, due to its advantageous properties such as tensile strength and resistance to fire and heat, was used as a building material in the UK, chiefly in shipyards and as insulation in factories, schools, hospitals and homes. It occurs naturally in 6 different types, all of which are carcinogenic to humans.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos contains microscopic fibres which, when disturbed, enter the air and can be easily inhaled by anybody in the nearby vicinity. The durable nature of these fibres means they don't break down within the human body, instead becoming attached to the lining of the lungs, along with other areas of the respiratory system, where they become lodged and almost impossible to expel. It is these fibres that cause healthy cells to mutate and turn cancerous.
Is asbestos banned in the UK?
Yes. From the mid-eighties onwards, rules and regulations have been brought in to prohibit the use and importation of the two main types of asbestos – crocidolite (blue) and amosite (brown) - and control the use of a third – chrysolite (white). In 1999 the import and application of chrysolite was also banned and strict rules for working with existing asbestos installations have continued to be updated since, resulting in the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
What diseases are associated with asbestos?
There are 4 main associated illnesses. These are:
- Mesothelioma – This asbestos-induced cancer is responsible for the highest number of proven related deaths. Mesothelioma attacks the lining of the lungs, as well as the lower digestive tract, and has a gestation (latency) period of anything from 20 to 50 years. Once diagnosed it is almost always terminal
- Asbestos-related lung cancer – The fact it is identical to the more common form of lung cancer makes it difficult to ascertain a cause, but it is estimated that asbestos-related lung cancer kills the same number of people annually as mesothelioma
- Asbestosis – Like mesothelioma, asbestosis has a long latency period, with similar symptoms emerging many years after initial exposure. Unlike mesothelioma, it is not a cancer. Asbestosis results in a scarring of the lungs which leads to gradual shortness of breath but isn't necessarily fatal. Even so, according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics it was the exclusive cause of 477 deaths in 2013
- Pleural thickening – Pleura is the name given to the lining of the lungs, which, in the case of pleural thickening, becomes inflamed, swelling and squeezing the lungs, leading to breathlessness and chest pains. It is not fatal in itself, but is common among people exposed to asbestos, who might be susceptible to another, more serious condition
Can I claim for an asbestos-related disease?
If you were exposed to asbestos as part of your job and are suffering with one of the aforementioned conditions, you can make a claim for compensation.
How long do I have to make a claim?
There is a 3 year limit on making Personal Injury claims. In the case of asbestos, this applies from when you are first diagnosed with a related condition, as opposed to when you were first exposed.
What if a family member has died from an asbestos-related disease?
In the sad event that a loved one has died and it is revealed that this is due to asbestos exposure, the 3 year deadline starts from the date of their death.
Can I get legal aid for an asbestos claim?
Unfortunately there is no legal aid available in cases of this nature. A no win no fee solicitor can help in these circumstances, reducing the financial strain at what will already be a difficult and distressing time.
How long does an asbestos claim take?
It depends upon the complexity of the individual case, but on average a mesothelioma claim can last anywhere between 3 and 6 months. Lung cancer and asbestosis generally require a great deal more evidence to pursue a successful claim and it can therefore take more time to reach a settlement. This could be as long as 3 years from the initial diagnosis.
What if the employer responsible no longer exists?
As it can take anywhere up to 50 years for the symptoms of an asbestos-related disease to manifest, we often find that the employer responsible no longer exists. Since 1969 it has been required by law for companies to take out Employers' Liability Insurance, ensuring they are covered for any illness or injury that befalls an employee as a result of the work they do. If the employer has ceased trading, the insurer is then responsible for any settlement. It is the duty of a good law firm to use their experience, knowledge and the resources at their disposal to track down insurance firms and ensure they pay.
If the employer didn't have any insurance (pre-1969 it wasn't compulsory), the Government's Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) is available, with compensation based on your age and when you were diagnosed.
Are there other Government payments?
Whether or not you have made a civil claim, there is a Government Lump Sum payment available to all victims of mesothelioma. Most specialist solicitors will sort this automatic entitlement out almost immediately, as these funds can be made available within a few weeks of diagnosis. If you have not made a civil claim or contacted a solicitor, it is still possible to claim this Government Lump Sum payment for mesothelioma and, where possible, it should always be claimed during lifetime. If, however, the victim has passed away then the spouse or child of the deceased should apply for this payment within 12 months of the victim's death.
This is unique in that it is the only automatic payout for a disease offered by the Government. As with the DMPS, awards are banded by age and time of diagnosis. Sufferers of other asbestos-related diseases may also be able to claim a lump sum payment, dependent upon the level of exposure and their respiratory impairment. Do call a specialist industrial disease solicitor or your local CAB for full details of Government payments for asbestos disease victims.
How much is an asbestos claim worth?
Individual circumstances, including age, life expectancy and the severity of your illness, will play a role in the level of the award given. Settlements can start at anywhere around £1,000 for minor ailments that resolve themselves, rising to £50,000 and in some cases in excess of £1million at the more acute end of the scale. Our solicitors can advise you on what your claim is worth.
What should I do next?
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, your first step is to seek independent legal advice. A no win no fee law firm such as Simpson Millar will have the expertise to offer guidance and act on your behalf, setting in motion the proceedings that will lead to your claim for compensation being made.
Don't hesitate to make an enquiry
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for exposure to this hazardous substance.