Success in a civil claim for mesothelioma compensation and the extent of a former employer’s liability relies on establishing that exposure to asbestos at a specific work location not only occurred but also contributed to the victim’s later confirmed mesothelioma. The process can be challenging, as in most cases, the original period of exposure would have occurred up to 30 to 40 years earlier.

Increasingly, victims and their loved ones find that they will need to call upon former work colleagues to provide their accounts of workplace conditions with regards the presence and any handling of asbestos. The peak period of UK asbestos use occurred from the late 1940s to the late 1970s / mid 80s when the first ban came into force. Increasingly, victims who were in their late teens or early twenties when first exposed are now approaching their 80s or 90s. As the passage of time lengthens, victims and their families may need to present witness testimonies to help obtain a favourable court decision.

The court will want to hear about a former employer’s asbestos awareness to the potential health risks. The extent of liability can rest upon determining an employer’s neglect of their “reasonable” duty of care to provide sufficient protection, which would have minimised the dangers of injury and damage caused by breathing in asbestos fibre dust.

Wide number of industries which used asbestos

Known high risk occupations were the heavy engineering industries such as, shipbuilding yards, car assembly plants, railway coach works, oil refineries, power stations, foundries, mills and storage depots. However, there was a wide number of manufacturing industries which used asbestos as an insulating and fire-retardant material in their products. In addition, vast armies of maintenance men were employed in countless industries to service the machinery, boilers, pipework and general fabric of the building where asbestos was commonly used as insulation and fireproofing.

In past cases, a defendant employer would sometimes pose a challenge to the extent of their liability based upon the exceptional long period of time it would take before the first appearance of asbestosis symptoms. It would be stated that exposure could have also occurred at other workplaces in a defendant’s work history. A court may have to calculate an employer’s proportion of liability in arriving at a final figure.

Medical research has clearly documented that between 15 to 50 years or more can elapse from an initial period of exposure until a claimant experiences the onset of symptoms. Most victims – around 80 per cent – tend to be in their mid 70s at least when they start to experience the early signs, such as breathing difficulties, chest pains, headaches or excessive tiredness. Unfortunately, in most cases, the disease has often reached a late stage and the victim may only have less than a year to live. There is a statutory time limit of three years within which to make a mesothelioma claim and it can often be left to the spouse or a close family member to continue seeking answers if the victim passes away before an employer is held to account.

Mostly the victim was employed at a local company

Today, there can often be 50 years from the period when a claimant was believed to have been exposed to asbestos at a place of work. Unfortunately, the number of victims is still consistently high and shown to be rising in several areas of north England and parts of the south coast. The number of deaths resulting from mesothelioma is now up from 2,519 in 2014 to 2,542, in 2015, according to the latest available figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). At the same time, every year around 3,500 asbestos disease sufferers are unable to trace their original employer and / or insurer.

It is not that unusual for a company where the victim once worked to be no longer in business. The firm could also have been taken over and, in some instances, is now a subsidiary of one or more companies based in different countries. Determining liability can be a challenge in these cases, but mostly the victim was employed at a local company and an original employer or their insurer are more likely to be traced.

Increasingly, defendants will agree to an out of court settlement. They are made aware that a court will be more likely to find a former employer was “negligent” if they had not taken reasonable care to protect employees by failing to supply the necessary protective equipment, such as an adequate breathing mask. Presenting additional witness accounts from former workers at the company can be valuable evidence in support of a victim’s claim.

In many cases, the persistence of a victim’s family who repeatedly put out call for witnesses to get in touch can lead to unexpected results. Former work colleagues can still be found, which can make a difference to the claim process.