Can I claim compensation for the worry of knowing I have been exposed to asbestos?
The use of asbestos materials was extensive in the UK for many decades, particularly during the 1960s. In fact many buildings today still contain asbestos materials which were installed many decades ago. All of those asbestos materials were fitted by someone. Unfortunately, some of those people who fitted the materials will go on to develop an asbestos related disease. In addition, some family members of those people will also develop asbestos release diseases as a result of breathing in asbestos fibres from work clothes taken home.
Asbestos Related Conditions
The recognised asbestos related conditions are:
- Pleural plaques;
- Pleural thickening;
- Asbestos related lung cancer;
In addition, although a pleural effusion is not in itself an asbestos related condition, it can be caused by an underlying asbestos related disease. Therefore, if you know you have been exposed to asbestos, you should let your doctors know about that exposure if a pleural effusion is mentioned to you.
Prior to 1999 when all asbestos use was banned in the UK, many tradesmen were being exposed to asbestos dust through their work. Those tradesmen would typically include carpenters, electricians and plumbers, although there were numerous other tradesmen and workers who were exposed to asbestos dust.
In addition to those tradesmen who were exposed to asbestos dust through their own work, anyone else working close-by or even walking through the areas in which the tradesmen worked, are at risk of developing an asbestos related condition if they breathed in the asbestos fibres. This could be an apprentice or mate working alongside the tradesmen, a supervisor/foreman checking on work or just someone walking through a particular area to get to another area in the building.
We are also seeing an increased number of family members who have developed an asbestos related disease as a result of asbestos dust on someone else’s work clothes, for example a wife who has washed her husband’s contaminated work clothing.
Worry and distress
People who know they have been exposed to asbestos at work but who have not developed an asbestos related condition regularly ask us whether they can pursue a claim for the worry and upset caused by knowing they could develop an asbestos related disease. Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Our law does not allow for compensation to be paid because someone knows they were exposed to asbestos at work and is worried about that exposure. Even if the exposure to asbestos was in clear breach of the laws and regulations in place at the time, there has to be the development of and symptoms caused by one of the asbestos diseases mentioned above. Only with that physical condition, can a compensation claim be investigated.
Many people will genuinely feel worried and concerned for their health knowing they have been exposed to asbestos at work or through a relative’s asbestos contaminated work clothing. Some people would have been exposed to asbestos dust for a short period of time only, whereas other asbestos exposure may have occurred over many years. However, the worry is the same irrelevant of how, where or to what extent someone was exposed to asbestos.
For those who do go on to develop an asbestos related disease, it will typically have been at least 40 years since they suffered the exposure to asbestos. This long time period is a period of uncertainty and concern for many worried about their health.
We are contacted by people who have a genuine worry they will develop, for example, mesothelioma. This may be based on an article they have read in the newspaper, or a story seen on the news, or because a former colleague has developed an asbestos disease and they did the same work or worked in the same areas. However, as set out above, unless a physical asbestos related condition manifests itself, a compensation claim cannot be pursued.
We have been told time and time again by clients who have previously been exposed to asbestos that the concern about developing a condition is always there in the back of their mind as a nagging thought. Every time they develop a cough or suffer some breathlessness, they worry it could be the start of an asbestos related condition. This can cause significant upset and distress for some people.
What can you do?
Although you cannot bring a compensation claim for the worry caused by knowing you have been exposed to asbestos dust, there are some practical steps you can take to record the exposure.
It is important that your GP knows about your previous asbestos exposure, so if relevant symptoms do develop, investigations can be carried out quickly to establish if an asbestos related disease is the cause of those symptoms.
We would suggest you may want to prepare a short summary of how, where and when you were exposed to asbestos and who the employers were at the time and then simply ask your GP to keep that document in your medical records. You should ensure the summary is signed and dated by you in pen. The document should be brief, we would suggest no more than an A4 sheet of paper. This will alert your GP to the fact you have been exposed to asbestos dust, so medical investigations can be carried out should the need arise. In addition, should you actually develop an asbestos related condition, there is then already evidence present in your medical records with some details about how that exposure took place – that could be crucial evidence in a compensation claim.
Some employers may have asked you to sign an asbestos exposure register when you were at work or even after you had left the employment. However, this is a register held by the employers and therefore is not independent and is not your own account of how the exposure took place. For that reason, we would recommend you prepare your own summary for your GP records as suggested above.
If you know you have been exposed to asbestos and develop symptoms such as an unexplained cough or breathlessness, you could ask your GP for a chest x-ray to investigate the cause. If someone develops an asbestos related condition, the earlier it can be diagnosed the more treatment options there is likely to be.
Pursuing a compensation claim
If you are diagnosed with one of the asbestos related conditions mentioned above, it is important you seek specialist legal advice without delay. The fact you have been exposed to asbestos through no fault of your own is not enough to succeed in a compensation claim – legal blame has to be proven. However, our asbestos team at Hodge Jones & Allen are true specialists in this field and have decades of experience between them – we are here to help and advise you.
The lawyers within our asbestos team only deal with asbestos related claims and their knowledge in this area is well respected and has gained the team an excellent reputation. Our lawyers will give you clear and helpful advice on the options available and will also ensure you do not miss out on other payments you may be entitled to, for example DWP benefits.
The law states that any Court proceedings for compensation arising from an asbestos related disease must be started within three years of the date you knew, or ought to have known, about the asbestos related condition. This will often be the date of diagnosis.
If someone has died from an asbestos related condition, the general rule is that Court proceedings must be commenced within three years of the date of death.
However, we would urge you to not delay and to seek legal advice as soon as is practical after a diagnosis of any asbestos related condition.
Millions of people in the UK have been exposed to asbestos dust but only a small percentage of those people will go on to develop an asbestos related condition. However, this does not stop people from worrying about their own exposure to asbestos.
If a physical asbestos related condition develops, it may be possible to pursue a compensation claim, even if the exposure was not through your own employment, and so early legal advice should be obtained.
For those people who are concerned about their previous asbestos exposure, please consider taking the steps mentioned above so the exposure is at least correctly recorded somewhere independent of your workplace.
Unfortunately, until such time someone actually develops an asbestos related disease, a compensation claim cannot be pursued.