Asbestos related claims: A client's guide

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Who are BL Claims Solicitors

BL Claims Solicitors specialise in personal injury, clinical negligence and travel claims, providing our clients with hands-on support, nationally.

We are rated as one of the top firms in the UK and believe in speaking to our clients in jargon-free language and ensuring you're speaking to a highly qualified lawyer right from the outset

What are asbestos related illnesses and how do they occur

Asbestos related diseases are reported to be the greatest single cause of work related deaths in the UK at present. For all asbestos related conditions there is a delay between first exposure to asbestos and the development of the condition. For this reason and especially in the case of mesothelioma, it is predicted that the annual number of deaths due to mesothelioma will continue to increase and that the rate will peak at little under 2,500 per annum between 2011 and 2015 or later. This is already increased from less than 200 deaths per annum in the 1960's to over 2000 deaths at present.

We recognise that a diagnosis of an asbestos related condition can be devastating not only to the individual but to their family and friends. Here at BL Claims Solicitors we always put you first to ensure that you receive the right advice, access to Local Support Groups, details of benefits you can receive, support through the life of your claim and beyond.

The following are asbestos related conditions that you can be diagnosed with as a result of exposure to asbestos:

  1. Lung cancer
  2. Asbestosis
  3. Mesothelioma
  4. Plural thickening
  5. Pleural Plaques

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Consequences of asbestos exposure

1. Lung cancer

Being exposed to asbestos increases the risk of developing lung cancer. Asbestos exposure and smoking can act together to produce a more significant risk of lung cancer in individuals that have been exposed to both hazards.

2. Asbestosis

Asbestosis is only one of the diseases which is caused by asbestos exposure . It is often a common mistake to think that it is the only disease caused by asbestos. Asbestosis itself is a lung disease which is caused by breathing in asbestos. These fibres irritate the lung and cause them to scar and thickening along the tissues. This is known as fibrosis. The main symptoms of asbestosis are shortness of breath. Other symptoms can include chest pain, unexplained cough and feeling of tightness around the chest area. Asbestosis can not be reversed or cured. People who have asbestosis are put at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer as well as other respiratory problems. Asbestosis can develop into mesothelioma.

3. Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the external lining of the lungs (pleura), or less commonly the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) or heart (pericardium). At present there is no cure for mesothelioma but treatment can ease symptoms and can extend survival. The greater an individuals exposure to asbestos the greater the risk to the individual of developing mesothelioma. Usually those most at risk of developing mesothelioma will be men who have worked in industry. However, recent cases have reported even through exposure to small amounts of asbestos in cases involving teachers, school pupils or administrative assistants where exposure to asbestos was minimal.

4. Pleural thickening

Pleural thickening is again caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. Thickening occurs when the fibres make their way up to the pleura which is the two layered membrane surrounding the lungs causing it to scar and thicken.

5. Pleural plaques

Areas of thickening that are not wide spread do not cause symptoms are known as pleural plaques. However, if they develop to cover a larger area and impair an individuals breathing they are known as diffused Pleural Thickening. They can develop in either one or both lungs.

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Medical treatment and rehabilitation

For all asbestos related conditions, with the exception of pleural plaques, if you can prove you were exposed to asbestos, and that the individual that exposed you was negligent in doing so you may have a claim for compensation for personal injury. Unfortunately, at present the law does not recognise pleural plaques as a compensationable condition, since a Ruling in the House of Lords in 2007. Despite campaigning the last Government decided not to overturn the decision.

If you know you have been exposed to asbestos in the past and you begin to suffer from any symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness across your chest
  • Unexplained cough
  • Pains in the lower back, abdomen or chest
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Problems with appetite
  • Sweating
  • Fevers
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling of the abdomen

Then it is a good idea to visit a doctor for medical advice. Damage caused by Asbestos is normally detectable by scan or x-ray. Upon diagnosis any treatment options will be discussed with you by your treating doctor.

Once you have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease it is also possible to claim state benefits. These benefits may include:

  • Industrial Injuries Benefit – if exposed to Asbestos at work
  • Incapacity Benefit – if he/she is forced to stop work
  • Attendance Allowance (if over 65) / Disability Living Allowance (under 65) (depending on severity of injury)
  • Blue disabled parking badge ( depending on severity of injury)
  • Lump sum payment under the Pneumoconiosis Workers Act 1979

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Can I claim compensation?

In a claim for compensation for an Asbestos related illness you have to prove that:-

  1. Someone was a fault, most commonly this one or more previous employers.
  2. That your employer/company breached their duty that was owed to you. For example, exposed you to asbestos without providing you with protective equipment.
  3. That you suffered an injury as a result.

If we are able to prove 1, 2 and 3 above, then you are entitled to claim compensation.

Do not be concerned if the company that you worked for is no longer trading. We are able to carry out searches in order to attempt to identify the insurer who provided cover to that company during the period that you were employed. However, if we are unable to locate an insurer and the company is no longer trading, you may not be successful in recovering compensation.

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What can I claim?

Compensation is awarded for the physical injury you sustained (this is known as general damages) and also your financial losses (known as special damages).

Your general damages will be based upon what injuries we can prove were caused or contributed to by your exposure to asbestos and how these have impacted on your daily life. This will be based upon expert medical opinion. For asbestos related injuries, reports are obtained from consultant respiratory consultants.

Depending on the severity of your asbestos related injury we may need to obtain reports from other disciplines. For example in mesothelioma cases we may need to obtain a report from a care consultant to deal with the increased level of care that may need to be provided to you by family members or aid professionals as a consequence of the disease.

Your special damages are the financial losses that you have incurred as a direct result of your asbestos related injury. These can be:

  • Lost earnings (past and future)
  • Care provided by your family and friends as well as paid carers or support workers
  • In Mesothelioma cases – hospice costs
  • Medication (over the counter or prescription)
  • Expenses such as specialist rehabilitation or ongoing physiotherapy
  • Other expenses for those visiting your in hospital, taking you to medical appointments etc
  • Equipment costs
  • House adaptations or aids and equipment
  • Additional costs to enable you to go on holiday, for example, increased insurance costs.

Mesothelioma and lung cancer suffers can also make a claim for a proportion of the income from wages and pensions that they would have received were it not for the disease (potentially) shortening their life. This is known as Lost Years Claim.

If the Claim is bought by your family after you have passed away, it is also possible to claim funeral expenses and a statutory bereavement award which is currently £11,800.00. Your family can also claim for their financial dependency on your income. For example, your widow, or widower or a person who has lived with you or your partner provided that they have lived with you for 2 or more years or any financially dependent children that you have. These dependents can claim for the proportion of your income that you contributed towards their upkeep.

In cases where there are no dependents, claims are normally more valuable when pursued during your lifetime. However, we can discuss this with both you and your family before you make a decision as to how you wish to pursue your claim.

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How will my claim be funded?

There are various options open to you and we will discuss them all with you:

  • BTE Insurance - this is Before the Event Insurance. You will have needed to take out specific insurance to cover legal costs in case you ever had an accident. This may be attached to your personal kit insurance and will likely be called 'Personal (or Family) Legal Protection'. Most policies have a costs indemnity of between £25,000 and £100,000 and are used to cover your own and your opponent's legal costs. Your insurer may insist you instruct a solicitor from their panel in order to benefit from the policy. However, you have the right to instruct the solicitor of your choosing.
  • Conditional Fee Agreement - this is known as a "No Win No Fee" agreement although this is a common misconception as there are fees involved. Under this type of popular agreement we would act for you upon the basis that we only recover our costs should we win your case.
  • Privately paying - you can pay us privately on an hourly rate basis or we agree a budget to investigate the case.

We discuss all of them with you and it is for you to choose the one that is right for you.

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When can I claim and when do I appoint a Solicitor?

A Claim for compensation for an asbestos related disease has to be commenced within 3 years of your date of knowledge. This is the date when you first discovered that you had an injury that was related to your exposure to asbestos NOT within 3 years of the exposure itself. Your claim does not have to be concluded within the 3 years, we just have to start Court Proceedings by the 3rd anniversary of your date of knowledge.

Claims can be brought on behalf of the Estate of individuals that have passed away from asbestos related diseases. In these cases the 3 year period runs from the date of the deceased's death provided that the individual was not already aware of their disease for over three year prior to their death. In any case of death from the suspected industrial disease an Inquest will take place. The Inquest will be carried out by a Coroner whose ambit is to find out who has died, when they died, where they died and how they came to die. Many families at this time consider seeking assistance from a Solicitor to represent them at an Inquest and to make sure that any questions that they have about the death are answered. BL Claims Solicitors is able to provide this service.

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Claims arising out of asbestos exposure in the Armed Services

If you were employed within the Armed Forces and were exposed to asbestos which later caused an asbestos related disease you may be able to make a compensation claim. However, the exposure has to be after 1987 when the Crown Proceedings Act removed the Crown immunity (which prevented military personnel from making a claim) then you will be entitled to make a claim. This will be dealt with in the same way as a civilian would make a claim against their former employer.

If exposure was before 1987, you are not entitled to make a claim. However, you may be entitled to make a claim for a War Pension or make a claim under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

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How long with the claim take, and will I need to attend Court?

The length of the case depends on a number of things. Firstly, whether or not we are able to identify the company that exposed you to asbestos, whether they are still trading and whether insurance for the company can be found. Next, it will depend upon whether or not the company accepts that they exposed you to asbestos and did not provide you with adequate personal protective equipment. This is known as liability.

In a personal injury claim, the person injured is called the Claimant and the person being blamed is called the Defendant.

In personal injury claims a protocol applies to all claims. In asbestos cases and in mesothelioma claims a specialist protocol applies to speed matters up owing to the significance of the diagnosis of the mesothelioma.

The general Personal Injury Protocol dictates that a Letter of Claim is sent to the person at fault setting out not only how the exposure occurred but why we consider them to be a fault, what your injuries are and what the financial losses are likely to be. The letter does not have to stipulate all losses, but aims to give the Defendant sufficient information to know what is being claimed. The Defendant then has 21 days to acknowledge that letter and provide their insurance details and a further 3 months to investigate the case. At the end of that time period they must either accept or deny liability. If they deny liability they have to state why and disclose any documents that they have that supports their denial.

In mesothelioma claims this timescale can be shortened. A specialist protocol also then applies if, no decision is being received from the Defendant in these cases and Court Proceedings have to be issued.

Most cases do settle with out the need for Trial, therefore it is unlikely you will need to attend Court. If you do, we will be there to guide you through the processes. If you have either mesothelioma or lung cancer, your witness evidence can be taken by deposition.

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Further reading and specialist support groups

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BL Claims Solicitors are here to help

If you would like to talk to someone and discuss a potential claim please call us on 0344 620 6600 anytime between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday, or if you would prefer you can email us at