“I believe I was exposed to asbestos but it was many, many years ago – can I still claim for compensation after all this time?” is probably the most asked frequently asked question an asbestosis lawyer can receive.
Entering a claim for mesothelioma compensation does have an urgent time element attached – the ability to successfully settle an asbestosis claim in the time a patient has left, which in many cases may only be around six months. While a spouse or a family member will continue with a claim after their loved one has passed away, a victim of asbestos exposure will often express the desire to see justice for the fatal harm they received and ensure a financially secure future for their dependants.
The ‘Limitation Period’
It is can often be a daunting prospect to come to terms with the impact of a confirmed diagnosis and the claims process. There may also be some confusion over the time left for making a compensation claim. Known as the “limitation period”, a victim has three years to enter a claim from when their asbestosis symptoms first appeared or the date the mesothelioma is diagnosed. It is not from the period of time during which a victim claims to have been exposed to asbestos.
In nearly all cases of mesothelioma, between 15 to 50 years may elapse from the original time of asbestos exposure and the inhaling of the fibre dust particles before the first signs of asbestosis disease becomes apparent.
Exposure at the time
An inevitable consequence of the long incubation period of the disease can be the difficulty in tracing the original employer, on whose premises the exposure was believed to have taken place and who may no longer be in business. The success of a claim can often depend on showing ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that it was likely that contracting mesothelioma was due to exposure to asbestos during the period when the claimant was employed at the company.
Previously, a former employer might contest their responsibility “at the time” for causing their employee’s eventual mesothelioma or the company insurer would assert their policy only covered liability for the original period it was in operation.
Tragically, it will only be after a confirmed diagnosis that victims make the link between a period of time some thirty or forty years earlier as being the most likely cause of their fatal cancer when they recall being regularly exposed to asbestos materials or fibre dust at one or more workplaces.
Miss the early indications
For much of Britain’s peak industrial asbestos use from the 1950s to the late 1970s and early 80s, the widespread lack of asbestos awareness to the long term deadly health risks meant there was hardly any safety information, special breathing equipment or protective clothing provided to those directly working with the insulation materials.
In addition, a victim may also miss the early indications, such as shortness of breath, fatigue and other vague pains, which can be simply overlooked or misdiagnosed as a more common respiratory complaint, such as flu or a “winter cold.” Tragically, it is too often the case that diagnosis comes at a late stage in the spread of the disease, and the patient may only expect to survive another 4 to 12 months.
When there’s no confirmed diagnosis
It is not uncommon for an asbestos exposure victim to die without a confirmed diagnosis. A death which has occurred from an industrial disease is considered an ‘unnatural death’ under the Coroner’s Act 1988 and an inquest must take place to establish and record the cause of death.
Where the link between the cause of death and mesothelioma cancer has not been identified a coroner’s report is to obtained following a post-mortem examination. Under these circumstances, the family of the deceased would then be able to commence a claim, and the limitation period would start either from the date of death or the date when the cause of death was confirmed by the post-mortem.
At the end of 2014, the Ministry of Justice announced that they plan to speed up the mesothelioma claims process, which would enable hospital medical records to be obtained more quickly and allow HM Revenue and Customs to release the work records of deceased victims to their dependants without permission from the courts.