Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was used as early as the Stone Age to strengthen ceramic pots. At the end of the 19th century, people began large-scale mining the mineral. Manufacturers and builders widely used asbestos for much of the 20th century due to its fire-resistant and electric insulator properties.
In the 1970s, its adverse effects on human health became widely acknowledged, and its use has been made illegal in many countries. Nonetheless, many buildings still contain asbestos, and at least 100,000 people die each year worldwide from diseases related to asbestos exposure.
In the UK, asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer cause over 5,000 deaths each year. All asbestos related diseases typically take many years to develop, but many are often rapidly fatal following the onset of the disease.
According to the World Health Organisation, around 125 million people are currently exposed to asbestos in the workplace. In 2014, occupational exposure resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). Additionally, thousands of deaths can be attributed to non-occupational exposure to asbestos.
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease or lost a loved one due to a related illness, you might be entitled to make an asbestos claim. A claim should be possible even if your employer is no longer in business.
Can I make an asbestos claim?
Asbestos related diseases can take decades to develop, so it does not matter how long ago you were exposed to the toxic material. Likewise, you could still be entitled to make an asbestos compensation claim even if your former employer is no longer trading.
Usually, asbestos claims are possible if:
- You were diagnosed with a condition related to asbestos exposure no longer than three years ago
- You found out that the death of a loved one was due to asbestos exposure in the past three years
- Another party owed you a duty of care
- They breached their duty by negligently exposing you to the risk of developing an asbestos related disease
There has been an increase since 1931 in the number of legal duties employers must satisfy regarding the health risks linked to exposure to asbestos. If you were diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, your solicitor should have no problem establishing a duty of care.
The duty of care to protect individuals from asbestosis and other related diseases extends to individuals living in the surroundings of asbestos processing facilities and families of employees.
Therefore, you should be able to make a claim even if you developed a disease due to secondary exposure. Even asbestos fibres from the hair, clothes or skin of a family member who worked with or around asbestos could cause you to develop an asbestos related disease.
However, even if you were exposed to asbestos and developed the typical symptoms of a related disease, you cannot make a claim if you were not firmly diagnosed by a healthcare professional.
On the other hand, you might have made an asbestos claim in the past for a diagnosed disease. It is essential to know that if your health further deteriorated or you were diagnosed with a second related disease, you could be eligible to make another claim.
This might only be possible if your previous claim was made on a provisional basis and you did not reach a full and final settlement. In full and final claims, you usually get a bigger lump-sum payment, but you cannot make a further claim if your illness worsens.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of six different types of minerals composed of long, flexible fibres that can be released into the atmosphere due to abrasion or other processes. The minerals occur naturally around the globe in some rocks, sediments and soils and can be white, green, blue or brown.
The term derives from a Greek word meaning inextinguishable, unquenchable or inconsumable, reflecting its qualities. Asbestos is exceptionally flexible, durable and non-flammable even at extremely high temperatures.
The use of asbestos dates back to at least 4,500 years ago, when inhabitants in the East Finland region used it to strengthen pots and cooking utensils. The mineral was widely used throughout the 20th century for manufacturing over 3,000 products commonly used in homes and commercial buildings.
Asbestos was commonly used in various industries due to being cheap, flexible, durable, naturally insulating and fireproof. However, in the early 1900s, researchers started noticing a large number of lung problems and premature deaths in asbestos mining towns. The first documented death from an asbestos-related illness dates from 1906, and the first diagnosis of asbestosis was made in 1924.
In 1902, asbestos became listed as a harmful industrial substance in Britain. However, blue and brown asbestos fibres were only banned in 1985, and the import, sale and reuse of white asbestos were outlawed in 1999.
The main types of asbestos commercially used in the UK are:
- Chrysotile, also known as white asbestos. It has the most flexible and heat-resistant asbestos fibres and was used as a reinforcing material in building products. Traditionally, it was the most widely-used mineral, accounting for approximately 95% of the asbestos mined annually. In 1994, the UK imported 5,000 tonnes of chrysotile due to increasing sales of asbestos made roofing slates in 1993, but its use was later banned in 1999.
- Crocidolite or blue asbestos has the strongest fibres and high resistance to acids. It was mainly used in yarn and rope lagging and as a thermal insulator from the 1880s until the 1960s. Crocidolite is the most lethal of the asbestos minerals; strict guidelines regulating its use were introduced in 1969, but it wasn’t actually banned in the UK until 1985.
- Amosite, a brown type of asbestos, has rough, strong fibres that are resistant to heat. It was widely used to tackle condensation and as an acoustic and thermal insulator until 1985, when its import in the UK was banned.
The unique chemical composition and physical properties of asbestos made it a widely used material in thousands of products, including floor tiles, road signs, insulating mattresses, water and sewage pipes, cement building materials and many others.
There are no official UK statistics regarding the number of buildings in the country that may still contain asbestos, but it was used on a large scale for fireproofing, insulating and reinforcement. According to experts, almost all buildings built prior to its banning contain asbestos products.
If you or a loved one developed an asbestos related illness, you might be entitled to claim asbestos compensation.
Asbestos has been mined and used on a large scale since the late 1800s, mainly to strengthen cement and plastics, fireproof buildings, textiles and military vehicles or as an insulator. Its adverse effect on human health started to become transparent at the beginning of the 20th century, but its use in the UK was completely banned only in 1999.
Regardless of its health risks, only 66 countries, including the United Kingdom, banned the use of asbestos, with exemptions for minor uses permitted in some of them.
Asbestos in itself is not harmful, but when damaged, disturbed, weathered or old, it releases toxic fibres into the atmosphere. After release, the fibres break down into tiny particles that become airborne and are easily inhaled by people exposed to them. The particles collect in the lungs, causing inflammation and scarring.
Asbestos exposure can cause both benign and malignant diseases, such as:
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs and, less frequently, the lining of the abdomen, heart or testes. Virtually all cases of mesothelioma are caused by exposure to asbestos. In the UK, approximately 2,500 new cases are diagnosed every year, and it remains one of the principal causes of work-related deaths. The prognosis for people with mesothelioma is poor, and most patients live less than one year after diagnosis.
Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause genetic changes to healthy lung cells. Damage to the DNA promotes abnormal, uncontrollable cell growth, resulting in lung cancer. After tobacco smoking, asbestos is one of the most common causes of lung cancer. The number of lung cancer diagnoses attributed to asbestos exposure each year is similar to that of mesothelioma diagnoses.
In 2009, researchers confirmed the link between asbestos exposure and ovarian cancer. The asbestos fibres may reach the ovaries via the bloodstream, reproductive tract or lymph system. Women exposed to asbestos have, on average, a 2.25–fold increased risk of mortality from ovarian cancer. The risk grows even through secondary exposure if another family member worked with or around asbestos.
The chance of developing laryngeal cancer is, on average, 40% higher in people exposed to asbestos than those with no exposure. This doubles or triples in people with high exposure like miners, textile and construction workers.
Bile duct cancer
In 2009, researchers found an increase in bile duct cancers among patients who sustained occupational or household exposure to asbestos. Asbestos fibres may become trapped in the ducts that connect the liver to the intestine. Around 40% of people diagnosed with bile duct cancer reported asbestos exposure as their only risk factor.
Some types of pharyngeal, colon, rectal and stomach cancer may also be linked to asbestos exposure, but it is unclear how the fibres target these cells.
Asbestosis is a non-cancerous chronic condition caused by long-time exposure to asbestos, often at the workplace. The body’s reaction to the inhaled fibres causes damage to the air sacs, making it more difficult for the oxygen to enter the bloodstream. The scarring of the lungs cannot be reversed and may continue to progress, giving a higher risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma.
Hyaline pleural plaques
Pleural plaques are the most common sign of asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibres can become trapped in the lung lining, causing irritation and thickening of tissue. The condition rarely presents symptoms and needs little to no intervention but may increase the chance of developing other, more severe diseases.
Pleural thickening can be caused by chronic inflammation of the pleura due to asbestos exposure. Symptoms may include chest pain and difficulty breathing. There is no cure for the condition, but it can be treated with medication and pulmonary rehabilitation.
The inhaled asbestos fibres may reach the pleura and cause swelling and inflammation, increasing the risk of blood vessels leaking fluids, leading to the development of pleural effusion.
Peritoneal and pericardial effusion
Peritoneal and pericardial effusions refer to the collection of fluid in the abdominal cavity or between the layers of the membranes surrounding the heart. While there are available treatments to remove the excess liquid, effusion is often a sign of another severe underlying condition such as mesothelioma or other cancer types caused by exposure to asbestos.
People exposed to asbestos may be symptom-free for up to 40 years after exposure, but at some point, they might experience the signs of an asbestos related disease, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Significant weight loss and loss of appetite
- Development of a cough or coughing up blood
- Pain in the chest or abdominal area
- Difficulty swallowing
Asbestos related diseases are diagnosed based on your symptoms, asbestos exposure and physical exams, including:
- Pulmonary function tests like spirometry, six-minute walk test, altitude simulation tests and others
- Chest X-rays to check for physiological changes in the lungs
- Lab tests to measure asbestos levels in your body
- CT scans
- Lung or pleural biopsies
The treatment for asbestosis and other asbestos related illnesses is limited and includes oxygen therapy, chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. In case of effusion, the fluid may need to be drained. The treatment cannot reverse lung damage but aims to relieve symptoms, slow its progress and treat complications.
If you developed any of the asbestos associated diseases listed above, you might be able to make an asbestos claim.
Who is at risk from asbestos exposure?
As mentioned earlier, the use of asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999, but many buildings from the last century still contain dangerous levels of the mineral. Asbestos is present in thousands of products, including:
- Attic and wall insulation containing vermiculite
- Roofing and siding shingles
- Paint and patching compounds
- Hot water and steam pipes
- Heat-resistant materials
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Brake pads, valves and other automobile parts
- Electrical components
Asbestos can also be found in many dated home and consumer products, such as:
- Makeup, including children’s makeup
- Talcum powder
- Fake snow
- Children’s toys, crayons and clay
Anyone can unknowingly be in contact with traces of asbestos, and there may be low levels of it overall in the air, soil and water. These low levels do not generally pose a health threat. People who have directly worked with asbestos have the highest risk of developing a related disease. Such occupations include:
- Shipbuilding and naval service
- Automobile industry
- Waste management
- Building demolition
- Power station workers
- Asbestos mining and milling
- Construction and building trades
- The textile industry and fabric milling
- Manufacture of plastics, rubber, chemicals or flooring
- Railway construction
Asbestos fibres become dangerous when inhaled because the body cannot easily break them down. Over long periods, this can cause inflammation, scarring and cancer.
In 2019, there were 2,369 deaths caused by mesothelioma and a similar number of lung cancer deaths linked to past asbestos exposure (see HSE website). Death rates at ages below 65 have decreased since the 1980s, while deaths at ages 75 and above have substantially increased.
Those born more recently have lower asbestos exposure than those working when asbestos was still widely used.
The death rates for males with asbestosis increased from 5.6 per million in 1981-83, to 16.5 per million in 2017-19. The highest rates in Great Britain are in the North East, with a decline from 46.6 per million in 2010-12 to 27 in 2017-19 and the North West, with 20 per million in 2017-19.
The death rates for asbestosis in females are much lower and have remained broadly constant since the 1980s, with 0.3 per million on average each year. The only region with a substantially higher death rate is the North East, with 2.1 per million deaths in 2017-19.
Not everyone exposed to asbestos will develop an illness. Factors that influence the risk of developing an asbestos related disease include:
- Duration – for how long you were exposed to the toxic fibres
- Intensity – how much asbestos you were exposed to
- Industry type – lower chance if asbestos is bound into a product, such as walls or tiles, than if it is released into the air during sawing or drilling
- Personal risk factors, such as smoking, a pre-existing lung condition or genetic factors
The 2012 Control of Asbestos Regulations states that the owners of factories, offices and other non-domestic buildings have a legal duty to manage asbestos on the premises by:
- Identify the location and condition of asbestos and ensure it does not deteriorate
- Remove it if necessary and replace it with safer substitutes
- Provide annual asbestos training to workers
Furthermore, public health organisations should improve early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and establish registries of people with past and current exposure.
If you developed an illness due to asbestos exposure, you might be entitled to make an asbestos compensation claim. For more information, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back for a free consultation with a legal adviser.
What is the time limit for making asbestos claims?
Asbestos related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma can take anywhere between 10 to 50 years to show symptoms after initial exposure. Many UK citizens were exposed to asbestos throughout the mid-20th century when the mineral was widely used in many industries.
Learning that you suffer from an asbestos associated illness can be devastating. The lung damage cannot be reversed, and the prognosis is usually poor for most associated diseases. Although claiming compensation cannot improve your health, it can cover the loss of earnings, medical treatment costs and other financial expenses.
Furthermore, the asbestos compensation award also covers general damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity. If you suspect you have developed an asbestos related disease due to your past work history, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Fortunately, the legal time limit to start a claim for asbestosis does not depend on when you were exposed to the toxic mineral but on the date you were diagnosed with a disease. Usually, you have three years after the date of knowledge of your illness to begin an asbestos claim.
This is known as the claim limitation date, after which it will no longer be possible to start legal proceedings.
Under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980, you could make an application to extend the three-year claim limitation date if you do not have enough time left to proceed. The court will decide whether you can still proceed with the claim based on:
- The length of the delay
- Your reasons for the delay
- The conduct of the defendant
- The extent to which the delay affects the strength of evidence
- How promptly you acted when you learned you could make a claim
- The steps you took to obtain medical evidence and legal support
The three-year claim limitation date does not apply to every claimant. For example:
- A litigation friend can make an asbestos claim on behalf of a child who was affected by an asbestos related disease at any point before they turn 18. After becoming an adult, the victim has another three years to start a claim.
- Mesothelioma is extremely rare in children and may be caused by exposure to asbestos in products, the environment or through a family member.
- There is no time limit to claim on behalf of an individual who lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings due to a mental disorder, neurodegenerative disease, a stroke or brain injury. The three-year countdown only begins if they recover their intellectual ability.
If a loved one passed away due to an asbestos related illness, you could claim asbestos compensation within three years after their death. Usually, you can also continue with the claim if a loved one started legal proceedings but passed away before settling the claim. You might receive compensation for :
- Loss of services and support
- Medical expenses incurred before passing away
- Funeral expenses
- Lost prospects of inheritance
- The pain and suffering they endured
- Loss of love and companionship
- Bereavement damages, currently set at £15,120
Regardless of what limitation date might apply to your situation, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Asbestos claims take a lot of work, especially if you are unsure when and where you were exposed, your former employer does not trade anymore, or you did not work for the company you hold responsible.
Your legal adviser might need a considerable amount of time to retrace your steps and gather relevant evidence. So the sooner they can begin collecting the evidence required to build a strong case, the better your chances of making a successful claim are likely to be.
To start your claim or find out more information, speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation.
If you or a loved one were diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, you might be entitled to claim compensation for your pain, suffering and any related financial expenses. The amount you could claim depends on the type of disease you developed and your circumstances, and it will take into account:
- The severity of your illness – for example, lung cancer is more severe than pleural thickening and entitles you to a more substantial compensation award.
- Out of pocket expenses for medical fees
- Costs of care and assistance
- Travel expenses to and from medical and solicitor appointments
- Lost earnings, including future loss of salary and pensions
- Loss of services, if you are no longer able to do DIY, gardening and other household chores
- Loss of consortium and companionship
- Reduced quality of life and life expectancy
- Your physical and psychological pain and suffering
- Costs of future medical treatments
- Any other long-term financial and personal impacts on your life
If a loved one dies from an asbestos related illness, you might be able to claim for dependency, which will generally involve financial and loss of service dependency. The value of the financial dependency claim will be established by considering the earnings of the deceased, their lost pensions and any other alternative income or savings.
Loss of service dependency is more difficult to evaluate; keeping a list of how the deceased helped their family could be essential evidence when valuing the asbestos claim.
The Judicial College compensation guidelines offer a starting point to establish the value of an asbestos compensation claim. According to their guidelines and compensation awards decided by the UK courts, you could get:
- £65,710 to £118,150 for mesothelioma
- £65,710 to £91,350 for lung cancer.
- £36,060 to £99,330 for severe asbestosis and pleural thickening
- £14,140 to £36,060 for less severe asbestosis and pleural thickening
These compensation amounts refer only to general damages like pain, suffering and loss of amenity. Any financial losses you incurred will be mathematically assessed and added on top of this amount.
Victims of asbestos-induced mesothelioma, who cannot trace a liable employer or their insurer, could receive a compensation payment of up to £123,000 from the government.
Can asbestos compensation claims be made with no win no fee?
If you were diagnosed with an asbestos related illness, you might want to make an asbestos compensation claim. A brief conversation with an experienced solicitor can let you know whether you have a valid case and how you can fund your claim.
Usually, asbestos claims can be made on a no win no fee agreement if your solicitor determines you have a fair chance of success. Several elements increase the likelihood of your case being successful, including:
- Your asbestos related illness was decisively diagnosed by a medical professional.
- You were exposed to asbestos at a formal workplace or experienced secondary exposure due to a family member.
- Your employer acted negligently and did not take the necessary precautions to protect you from asbestos exposure.
- It can be proven on the balance of probabilities that your illness was caused by asbestos exposure.
If your solicitor believes you have a valid asbestos claim, they will work to get you the compensation you deserve without asking for any upfront fees or legal costs. Furthermore, they will take out an After the Event (ATE) insurance policy on your behalf at the beginning of the claim.
If your claim is unsuccessful, the ATE insurance covers any costs incurred, including the defendant’s fees. In a no win no fee claim, you do not have to pay any solicitor fees if you lose, and there may be further disbursements the ATE insurance could cover, such as:
- The cost of an independent medical examination and report
- The cost of expert witnesses
- The barrister’s fees, if the case goes to court
If you reach a no win no fee agreement with your solicitor, you will only have to pay anything if you receive asbestos compensation. The defendant will have to cover most of your legal costs, while you will only pay a success fee to your solicitor. The success fee cannot exceed 25% of your compensation settlement, and you will be able to discuss it with your solicitor before they take on your case.
No win no fee means that you can make your asbestosis claim without taking any financial risks or paying upfront legal or solicitor fees. Furthermore, if your claim is ultimately unsuccessful, the ATE insurance policy will cover all your costs, and you will not owe a penny to anyone.
How long does a claim for asbestosis take?
A claim for asbestosis or another asbestos related disease takes an average of 18 months to complete, but a more complex claim may take up to three years. Some cases involving terminal illnesses like mesothelioma might settle in several months.
Ultimately, the amount of time it might take for your claim to settle depends on several factors, such as:
- The asbestos related condition you suffer from
- The severity of your illness and whether you received multiple diagnoses
- How easy it will be to trace your employer or their insurer
- The estimated value of your compensation award
- Your circumstances
- How long it might take to gather all the necessary evidence
- Whether the defendant admits liability
- Whether you will have to go to court
Your solicitor will offer you a free initial consultation to ask you questions about your former workplace and details about your disease. If they believe you have a valid asbestosis claim, they will investigate your case and gather all the necessary evidence to begin legal proceedings. This process can take a minimum of several months.
After preparing the case, they will send a claim notification form to the defendant or their insurer, informing them about your allegations of negligence. They will have 14 days to acknowledge your claim and up to four months to deliver a response.
If the other party admits liability, you can start negotiating your compensation settlement. Otherwise, you might have to wait between 6 to 12 months to receive a court date and argue your claim before a judge. A trial usually lasts between 3 to 5 days; if the judge decides you deserve asbestos compensation, you might receive the payment after several weeks.
To start your claim, speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation.
Can I still make an asbestos claim if my employer is no longer trading?
The health dangers of asbestos exposure have been known since the beginning of the 20th century. The first laws imposed on employers to protect employees were introduced in 1931. By law, employers also had to take out insurance to cover personal injury claims, including those for asbestosis, since 1972.
Your employer should have implemented health and safety measures to keep you safe from the risk associated with asbestos exposure. Some of the current guidelines dictated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) include:
- Avoid working with asbestos whenever possible.
- Only allow employees to work with asbestos after receiving the appropriate training and equipment.
- Only special contractors should be allowed to work on asbestos if it is in the form of a sprayed coating or lagging on pipes and boilers.
- Minimise asbestos dust by using hand tools and keeping materials damp.
- Use special double-bag vacuum cleaners and clearly mark asbestos waste.
- Make sure employees are wearing an appropriate mask.
If an employer neglected their duty to keep employees safe from asbestos related diseases, they might be liable for compensation. As illnesses caused by asbestos usually take decades to manifest symptoms, most asbestos claims are made against former employers.
This means your former employer might be no longer around, whether they have closed, been bought out or declared bankruptcy. In this situation, you might be able to claim against their historical insurer. Unfortunately, if both a former employer and their insurer are untraceable, asbestos claims cannot proceed.
If you find yourself in this situation, you might still be able to claim payment from the government or receive state benefits. If you are not eligible for a civil asbestos compensation claim, your solicitor can help you apply for other available benefits. These include:
- The 2008 Diffuse Mesothelioma Payments Scheme (2008 Scheme) – if you cannot receive compensation via a civil claim, you can claim a one-off payment through this scheme.
- The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) – you could claim under the DMPS scheme if you received a mesothelioma diagnosis after being exposed to asbestos in the UK and cannot trace your employer or their insurer. Under this scheme, you can also claim if you were the dependent of a sufferer who passed away.
- Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 provides a lump-sum payment for victims of mesothelioma that cannot pursue a civil claim.
- The Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) – if you suffer from mesothelioma, you might qualify for an IIDB payment even if your employer is still trading.
Unfortunately, many of the asbestos related diseases have a poor prognosis. If a loved one received such an unfortunate diagnosis, claiming compensation might not have been at the forefront of their mind during their last months.
However, you might be able to make an asbestos claim on their behalf if you are the spouse, child or another dependent of the victim. If they started a claim but passed away before it concluded, you may still pursue the claim or resubmit it as a claim for wrongful death.
Your solicitor can help recover fatal accident compensation for their pain and suffering, funeral expenses and any other financial losses caused by their passing away.
Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, you could also claim bereavement damages following the death of a loved one. This award aims to compensate you for the non-financial benefits the victim would have brought and provide some form of assistance.
According to the legislation, you can claim the current bereavement award of £15,120 if you are:
- The spouse or civil partner of the deceased
- Their partner, if cohabiting for two years or more
- A parent, if the victim was under 18 years old
- The mother, regardless of how old the victim was