The widespread use of asbestos fibres in the production of insulation materials throughout British industry for most of the middle to latter decades of the twentieth century meant that many thousands of employees were liable to be exposed in more than one place of work during the course of their working lives.
As a result, whenever a mesothelioma claim is brought by a victim ( or spouse / family member), it has been argued that it cannot be exactly determined from a number of different defendants, who actually was responsible for exposing the claimant to asbestos, which directly led to the contracting of the fatal mesothelioma cancer.
Where the claimant has been exposed while working at a number of companies, an additional complication is that one or more of the former employers or their insurers may have no longer be in business and cannot be traced.
In law, where just one defendant, and/or their insurers can be identified and proven to have negligently exposed the claimant to asbestos, which was significant enough to have materially contributed to the risk that the claimant would have contracted an asbestos disease, they can be held responsible for paying 100 per cent of asbestosis or mesothelioma compensation.
In other words, while the claimant cannot with certainty, establish which defendant had caused the asbestos-related disease, the argument that none of the defendants should therefore, be held responsible, can be dismissed if it can be established that exposure was more than minimal, against one specific defendant.
In a recent case, a Salford electrician, aged 62, was exposed to asbestos while working for four different employers. Commencing his career at 14 years old as an apprentice electrician from 1965 to 1971, where he was first exposed to asbestos, the victim was further exposed to asbestos fibre dust while working as an electrician at three different companies, including a food supplier and construction firm.
Despite growing asbestos awareness to the health risks throughout the period, the victim said that he “had no idea that my job could harm my health in this way.” Very often there was little or no information or protective equipment, such as breathing masks, provided by employers, until the first asbestos ban came into force in the mid 1980s.
There is a known long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years from the period of exposure and breathing in of the fibre dust until the first appearance of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms. Consequently, it was only in 2009 that the victim was confirmed with a diagnosis of pleural thickening, a build up of hardened lung lining tissue causing a progressive breathing difficulty.
As a result, a provisional asbestosis claim was settled, which provides for a further compensation claim to be made if the condition deteriorates.
Figures recently released by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show that in 2011 the number of newly assessed cases of diffuse pleural thickening was 440 and an estimated 4,700 asbestos disease related deaths are recorded every year.