Securing an out of court settlement for a mesothelioma claim can often be the urgent aim for asbestos exposure victims and their families. In some cases, a victim in their 50s, 60s or 70s diagnosed with the fatal mesothelioma cancer may be given a life expectancy of between 6 – 18 months. For those in their 80s and 90s, the time left may be much less, sometimes a matter of weeks only. An employer defendant who is determined to dispute their liability, which leads to one or more appeals will greatly prolong the case, by which time the claimant may have passed away. Daunting though the task may be, it’s left to the family and their asbestosis lawyer to carry on fighting for justice. 

In one recent case, the victim lost his life to the incurable disease of the lung linings just over five years ago, aged only in his early 50s. The employer defendant was a university hospital and the Secretary of State for Health, which both denied liability. The diagnosis of the deadly malignancy was a devastating blow to the wife, which would also rob their children of a father, and she was determined to seek answers and bring those responsible to account. After a long battle, the family of the deceased victim was finally awarded a five figure sum in an out of court settlement. 

Exposed to asbestos thirty year earlier 

The historical problem of asbestos in many of Britain’s hospitals has never really gone away. As recently as mid- 2017, it was reported by the BBC that seven doctors and nurses lost their lives to mesothelioma in the last six years, It was also revealed that more than 90 per cent of London hospitals still contain asbestos, left in place under a policy of asbestos management. A spokes- person for the NHS also admitted that “many parts of the NHS estate date from an era when asbestos was widely used”. The common practice of using the low cost building insulation reached its peak during the 1960s and 1970s before a first ban on the most toxic brown and blue asbestos was introduced in the mid-1980s. 

In the present tragic case, the victim who was a doctor, strongly suspected that he was exposed to asbestos thirty year earlier when he was a medical student at the university hospital. His wife recalls that before passing away, he remembers the many occasions he would walk too and back from lectures via underground hallways connecting the university to buildings on the hospital campus. It was during these regular and frequent walks that he would have likely been exposed. 

Asbestos lagging, which had been used to insulate the water pipes running along the length of the corridor, was in a deteriorating state and releasing tiny fibre dust particles into the enclosed space. The underground short cut may also have been contaminated when maintenance work was being carried out at the time The university hospital was built in the 1930s and the presence of asbestos within the fabric of the building was known in advance of the relocation of inpatients when a new university hospital was opened in 2010. An asbestos register and management control procedures were also put into place at the time to ensure there would be no risk to staff, visitors or patients until the future development of the site was decided. 

Judge’s reluctance to award the high level of compensation claimed 

One of the difficulties in the case involved witnesses who came forward to give an account of the condition of the underground passageway. While some said they also remembered seeing asbestos dust in the corridor, others denied it was present. In addition, there was the possibility of a judge’s reluctance to award the high level of compensation claimed, partly based on the “significant” value of the doctor’s patients he had at the time, had he survived. The case had been due for a five-day trial but, instead, an out of court settlement of a six-figure sum, repres- enting 50 per cent of the full value claim, was agreed to be awarded. 

It is always of real concern that innocent mesothelioma claimants and their families may have to undergo a prolonged battle to find answers from defendants denying liability. In addition to the devastation caused by the family’s tragic loss, in many cases, the accompanying financial struggle often adds to an ongoing stressful situation that a final settlement can never truly compensate, no matter the final figure.