Can I claim compensation if I’ve been exposed to asbestos?
Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry throughout the 20th century. Unfortunately, the devastating effects of asbestos exposure have only truly been realised in the last few decades.
Exposure to this toxic product means you have a higher risk of developing an asbestos-related disease such as cancer later in life. So, if you have been affected by asbestos exposure, can you claim compensation?
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was used in a wide variety of products and materials in construction and other industries until it was banned in the UK in 1999.
Asbestos was often used in insulation, flooring and roofing, and was even sprayed on ceilings and walls. The mineral is composed of flexible fibres that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion, making it a useful material to use in construction.
What makes asbestos dangerous?
From the early 1920s through to the mid-1980s, hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and labourers were exposed to asbestos in their working lives.
Working with and/or disturbing asbestos creates microscopic fibres which, if inhaled or ingested, can eventually cause serious illness.
Because the risks of asbestos exposure were not apparent for some years, many of those working with the substance have only realised the effects later in life. Claiming compensation for an industrial disease such as asbestos cannot turn back time, but it can help to provide some financial security for those who are suffering from an asbestos-related disease, and for families who have lost a loved one.
Working with asbestos
Whilst the UK no longer uses asbestos in products, there is still asbestos products in many old buildings. In fact, many homeowners discover asbestos during renovation work to this day (if it hasn’t already been picked up in the home survey), which requires specialist removal.
For those working in a building with asbestos materials, employers have a duty of care to their employees to risk assess this. If there is any chance that the asbestos could be disturbed, professionals should be brought in to remove this safely.
Not everyone exposed to asbestos at work will develop an asbestos-related disease. However, regular and/or long-term exposure to asbestos in the workplace puts you at more risk of developing an asbestos-related disease later in life.
According to HSE, around 5,000 people die in the UK every year from disease/illnesses relating to asbestos exposure.
What are asbestos-related illnesses?
Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other serious health conditions.
There are four main health conditions linked to asbestos:
- Mesothelioma (where cancerous tumours form in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart)
- Asbestos-related lung cancer
- Asbestosis (a chronic lung condition)
- Pleural thickening (where the pleura, a thin layer of membrane that covers the inside of the rib-cage and outside of the lungs, thickens)
Some of the most common symptoms of asbestos diseases are:
- Breathlessness/shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- A persistent cough (usually for three weeks or more)
- Pleural effusions (build-up of fluid on the lungs)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
The development of an asbestos-related illness can take many years after initial exposure. Symptoms will usually only present themselves 20 to 30 years after the initial exposure. Where there has been heavy exposure to asbestos, this period may be much shorter.
Sometimes, individuals are told that they have pleural plaques on their lungs. Whilst these are a sign that a person has been exposed to asbestos, they are asymptomatic and you therefore cannot make a personal injury claim for these. However, pleural plaques can develop into an asbestos-related illness, which you can claim compensation for.
Starting a claim for asbestos exposure
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, you may be eligible to claim compensation.
Because the effects of asbestos only become apparent some years after exposure, some people sadly die before having the chance to claim or without realising that their illness could have been attributed to past exposure. There are also circumstances where a person does not have the capacity to claim for themselves. In these cases, a loved one can start a claim on their behalf.
To claim for asbestos disease, it must be proven that the employer failed in their duty of care and the person suffered as a result. A personal injury lawyer who specialises in industrial disease claims will be able to guide you through this process.
How long do I have to make an asbestos claim?
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, you have three years to start a claim. These three years start from the date of your ‘reasonable knowledge’ of the diagnosis, e.g. when you became aware that your symptoms could be attributed to asbestos exposure.
If a loved one has died from an asbestos-related disease and you wish to seek compensation on their behalf, you have three years from when you found out that asbestos was the cause to start a claim.
Get in touch with our industrial disease solicitors
If you or a loved one have suffered from asbestos disease as the result of exposure during employment, our specialist personal injury solicitors may be able to help you claim compensation.