A number of industrial disease claims appear to have been hampered recently by the lack of adequate consideration and investigation by the coroner.
In one case a worker exposed to asbestos at the York Carriage Works for British Rail sadly passed away in December 2019. The Coroner was advised that he was heavily exposed to asbestos and the coroner requested investigations be carried out to determine the number of asbestos fibres in his lungs at the time of death. This was essential to the claim as asbestosis is known as an accumulative condition, there has to be a level of asbestos fibres contained within the lungs before a diagnosis can be given.
Unfortunately, the microscopy used by the NHS is not powerful enough to identify the full extent of asbestos fibres however there is one laboratory in Cardiff that does have the facilities to undertake an exhaustive fibre count. On this occasion, the Coroner requested a report from the Cardiff Laboratory which demonstrated that there was a significant number of asbestos fibres contained within the deceased lungs and the case was ultimately successful, securing the financial future for his widow.
Sadly this is not always the case. In another matter the Coroner refused a post mortem on the basis he was content with the lifetime diagnosis, despite the fact that a definitive diagnosis of asbestosis can only be given following post mortem. Most defendant insurers will insist on the fibre count and will argue they have been prejudiced in determining that asbestosis was present if no post mortem and fibre analysis has been undertaken. This case is now becoming difficult to pursue and may leave a widow without the financial security she should expect to receive for the premature loss of her husband.
In a third case we acted for a widow whose husband had suspected asbestos related lung cancer having worked at Metro Cammell, another company that built railway carriages. The NHS fibre analysis showed no asbestos fibres in the lungs despite his heavy exposure. The family requested that the tissue samples be retained whilst they considered the position and requested a private analysis of the tissue from the Cardiff based laboratory. Unfortunately it transpired that the Coroner is this matter had not retained the samples as requested and in fact the tissue samples had been destroyed. This left the family unable to have any further analysis carried out and were denied the opportunity to fully investigate the matter.
It would seem that there are some inconsistent decisions with regards to the role of a coroner where there is a suspicion that a death may have been caused by or contributed to by an industrial disease.
The issues may be due to time, workload or budget, but it seems wholly unfair that all families are not afforded the same opportunity by a Coroner in cases where asbestos is suspected as causing or contributing to the cause of death of a loved one. The Coroner has wide ranging powers to investigate and ultimately determine the cause death but seems that often findings are concluded without exploring all the options available to them.
If you suspect a loved one’s death may have been caused or contributed to by asbestos it is important that this is made know to either the doctor or directly to the coroner. The Coroner is under a duty to investigate a death that could be related to industrial disease. Once the matter is in the hands of the coroner you should always request that tissue samples be retained and ask that fibre analysis is undertaken. If you have been affected by the loss of a loved one through asbestos illness, are going through the process of an inquest or simply want more information please do not hesitate to contact us on 0800 294 3065.