Asbestos-Related Claims

Asbestos-Related Industrial Disease Claims

Thousands of people each year consider bringing asbestos-related industrial disease claims. Unfortunately, many are still put off by what seem to be insurmountable issues to do with causation and scientific proof. The courts have examined these in detail, and as a result have instituted special rules for many asbestos-related claims.

Causation Problems

One of the most serious conditions which leads to asbestos claims is mesothelioma. This rare cancer is caused by only one strand of asbestos, but current science is incapable of determining exactly which strand was responsible. For those who have been exposed to many different sources of asbestos, either at differing workplaces or simply during the course of their everyday life, it was often impossible to work out who should be sued. Since it could never be proved that the breach of an employer’s duty not to expose an employee to asbestos actually caused the mesothelioma, it seemed impossible for employees or their families to claim compensation.

Landmark Cases

This changed through the landmark judgement of the House of Lords in Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Ltd, in which the courts decided that any employer who ‘materially contributed’ to the risk of developing mesothelioma was liable in full, and could be sued. This opened up thousands of new asbestos claims which previously had been impossible to pursue. In 2006, it seemed as though the impact of this judgment had been lessened by another ruling of the House of Lords in Barker v Corus. This clarified that while every employer might be liable in full, they did not have to pay all of the damages. This meant that, for a brief time, asbestos claimants had to sue all of the potentially responsible previous employers and hope that none of them had gone out of business. Fortunately, due to a significant outcry over the ruling, Parliament soon intervened with the Compensation Act 2006. This means that victims of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma are now able to recover full damages from one ‘guilty’ employer, as before.

Pleural Plaques

Unfortunately, the news is not so good for sufferers of some other asbestos-related conditions. For example, for many years it was possible to make asbestos claims in relation to the development of pleural plaques, and in particular to the fear caused that a more serious condition might develop as a result of them. In 2007, however, the House of Lords ruled in Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co that since pleural plaques themselves cause no damage, they cannot give rise to an actionable lawsuit. A significant campaign was launched for legislation to reverse this decision, but only the Scottish Parliament introduced a law to allow compensation for pleural plaques developed as a result of asbestos exposure. As a result, those living in England and Wales are currently unable to claim for such a condition.

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