Tracing a former employer and /or their insurers is not necessarily difficult. An experienced asbestosis lawyer will carry out detailed investigation into a number of official database sources But there can be a hurdle to overcome if the original firm no longer exists in its original form. In one recent case, a maintenance engineer was exposed to asbestos at a company that would later come under the wing of a parent company with a different name.

An asbestosis victim’s former company can sometimes be taken over and trade under a different name or is incorporated into another organisation. Over a period of time, a complex corporate structure may evolve comprising subsidiaries and holding companies spread among a number of countries.

Current employers may deny all historical liability

Where a former company is no longer in it’s original structure, determining employer liability to pay mesothelioma compensation may not always be so straightforward. Claimants have always faced a significant difficulty in establishing one or more former employers’ liability for preventing or minimising the potential health risk of exposure, which eventually leads to mesothelioma or an asbestos-related disease. On average, between 30 to 40 years may elapse before the first asbestosis symptoms appear.

If a claimant was employed at several different companies during their working lifetime, the company may dispute the levels of any contributory exposure to a victim’s mesothelioma at their workplace, compared to any exposure levels at any other workplaces. However, if the company has changed ownership, the current employers may deny all historical liability. In one recent tragic case, a former employee was exposed to asbestos dust at the same plant where he worked for more than 40 years but which later changed ownership.

Continually exposed to asbestos-filled dust

The claimant had started working in the 1970s at the plant where he daily maintained the brakes and clutches in cranes and vehicles. The 1960s and 70s were the peak period for asbestos use throughout British industry, and the mineral had been part of automobile brake pads and other friction products since cylinder brake linings were first developed in 1902.

Up to 35 per cent of a brake lining product could contain asbestos fibres used to supply structural reinforcement and heat resistance. Continual abrasion releases microscopic asbestos fibres into the atmosphere and large amounts of asbestos material is trapped inside the brake housing or clutch space, which is then released when replacement or repair work is carried out.

The victim often worked 12-hour shifts nearly seven days a week and was almost likely to have been continually exposed to airborne asbestos dust. As is often recounted in witness statements by industrial employees during much of the middle decades of the 20th century, he was not supplied with any protective equipment nor provided with a ventilated working space.

Each company sought to deny their liability and tried to pass the blame

Following a diagnosis of mesothelioma confirmed, aged just 65, his former employers were traced and a mesothelioma claim pursued. It was found that the original plant later came under another company, and both become part of a new parent organisation. When the civil action began, each company sought to deny their liability and tried to pass the blame to their insurers despite being part of the same group.

Tragically the victim passed away 7 months later, just before his case was due to start. However, as a result of persistent denials and trying to avoid liability by the defendants, there was a two year delay before an out of court settlement was reached with the family. The Judge was moved to criticise the defendant’s tactics as “verging towards an abuse of legal process” and one family member said that while the defendants “finally admitted responsibility” they had not apologised nor said they were sorry for the long delay they had caused.

Protection for all employees only started to slowly improve from the 1970s

A majority of asbestos claim cases involve workers who began their working lives in their teens or early twenties with a firm at the height of Britain’s widespread industrial use of asbestos as an insulating material. Protection for all employees likely to be exposed to asbestos only started to slowly improve from the 1970s.

Introduction of The Asbestos Regulations 1969, aimed to control the levels of exposure to asbestos in workplaces and The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, required employers to conduct their work in such a way that their employees will not be exposed to health and safety risks. The introduction of The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987 applied to all work activities directly involving asbestos.