Asbestos is a mineral which is mined in Canada, Russia, China and South Africa. The term asbestos encompasses two groups of minerals – serpentine and amphiboles. The most common example of the serpentine group is chrysotile (white asbestos).
Asbestos has been in use since the late 1800s but its use increased greatly during World War II. Since then it has been used in many industries. For example, the building industry uses asbestos for strengthening cement and plastics, as well as for insulation, fireproofing and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, hot water pipes and nuclear reactors in ships. The car manufacturing industry has used asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. More than 5,000 products contain or have contained asbestos.
Plumbers, laggers, electricians, building workers, heating engineers, joiners and garage workers are just some of the occupations that may have been exposed to asbestos.
These are areas of thickening which occur on the parietal pleura, most commonly on the lower chest walls and diaphragm. These changes are visible on x-ray. In most cases a person will not be aware of pleural plaques, as they are commonly symptomless. Plaques are simply a marker of asbestos exposure and usually do not develop until 20 years or more after first exposure to asbestos. Pleural plaques alone are not prejudicial to health, but because they are evidence of asbestos exposure, there is a risk of developing asbestosis or other asbestos related diseases.
This is the most serious type of asbestos disease. It presents as a tumour on the lining of the lung or sometimes the lining around the abdomen. In the United Kingdom 80/90% of mesotheliomas can be related to exposure to amphibole asbestos fibre. Even relatively low exposure to amphibole asbestos can cause mesothelioma. The average latency period from first exposure to diagnosis is between 30-40 years.
Even relatives of people who have worked with asbestos have been known to develop mesothelioma from the asbestos dust brought home on work clothes.
This disease normally occurs as a result of heavy asbestos exposure over a prolonged period. The disease is a form of fibrosis of the lung. This affects the efficiency of the lungs and the person affected often has symptoms of breathlessness and coughing. This disability generally increases as the person gets older.
Diffuse Pleural Thickening
This condition affects the pleura, which is the lining of the
lungs. It can affect one lung or both lungs. It can result in significant disability if it is extensive and affects both lungs. It will generally take 10 years after first exposure to asbestos for it to develop.
Asbestos Induced Lung Cancer
It has been known for more than forty years that asbestos can cause lung cancer. Smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are far more at risk of developing asbestos induced lung cancer than non-smokers. It usually takes 20 years or more from first exposure to develop.
Up until January 2006 it was possible to obtain compensation for pleural plaques either on a provisional or full and final basis. This had been the position for more than 20 years.
However, the right to compensation for pleural plaques was the subject of a challenge by the Employers’ Liability Insurers, and on 17 October 2007 the House of Lords ruled that compensation should no longer be payable for symptomless pleural plaques.
Awards of compensation for mesothelioma can be significant. Courts frequently award between £55,000 and £90,000 for the disease itself. In addition, it will generally be possible to claim for past and future loss of earnings, the cost of specialist care or equipment and any private medical expenses. As a result, some awards can be in excess of £250,000.
Asbestosis claims can be dealt with on a provisional damages basis or on a full and final basis. A provisional award allows the claimant to come back to Court for additional compensation, should the degree of disability increase significantly. However, it is more common to have these cases dealt with on a full and final basis. Awards for the personal injuryaspect of the disease itself vary between £28,000 and£80,000.
Diffuse Pleural Thickening
Awards vary, depending on the degree of disability. However, typically, awards for the injury itself range between £22,400 and £60,000.
Asbestos Related Lung Cancer
For the disease itself, awards vary between £55,000 and £77,000. In addition, the Claimant may also be able to claim for loss of past and future earnings, the cost of specialist care, care provided by the Claimant’s family and any special needs, such as the cost of a stairlift or special shower or bed.