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What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that occurs naturally in the ground. It was mined in South Africa, Australia and Canada and shipped overseas. The UK was one of the countries that for a period of time imported raw asbestos and processed it into a variety of products, only formally banning it in 1999. Asbestos was considered a ‘wonder material’ due to its excellent insulating and fire resistant properties. Unfortunately even after it was discovered that asbestos was highly dangerous it continued to be used for decades putting many lives in danger. Asbestos is often referred to by its colour brown (Amosite), blue (Crocidolite), and white (Crysotile). Crysotile was most commonly used in the UK, however most were often present in some products.
What is Asbestos Illness?

Asbestos causes 5 different medical conditions pleural plaques, pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Pleural Plaques

The ‘pleura’ is a protective layer around the lungs, something like a protective sheild that the lungs sit in. Pleural plaques are areas of scarring on the pleura that indicate asbestos has been inhaled by the sufferer. This condition that does not normally cause any symptoms and often the sufferer does not know they have them until a chest x-ray is taken. Previously compensation could be claimed for this condition, however the law has now changed and compensation is no longer paid for exposure to asbestos in England and Wales.
Pleural Thickening

This is a condition in which the pleura becomes thickened in large areas. As the pleura is thickened it loses its ability to stretch and expand with the lungs as an inhalation of breath is taken. This causes a reduction in the amount of air that the lungs can take in. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a tight feeling across the chest and or pain.
Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a type of fibrosis of the lungs, and the body’s reaction to the asbestos being in the lungs. This type of growth has the effect of reducing the amount of space in the lungs, they can still expand, but there is less space into which air can be inhaled. Asbestosis can vary in severity, and symptoms tend to deteriorate and then reach a plateau where they remain relatively stable.
Lung Cancer

Asbestos is a known carcinogen (a cancer causing substance). Research is still ongoing into the types of cancers it causes, but generally it is agreed that non-small cell cancer is most strongly linked with it. Smoking is also a known carcinogen and often a person who worked with asbestos may also have a smoking history. This does not prevent a claim being successful. Although the exact relationship is not fully understood smoking and asbestos when combined have a synergistic effect and drastically increase the likelihood of a person developing lung cancer.
Mesothelioma

This is a rare form of lung cancer and is almost always caused by asbestos. However we have successfully pursued a claim for mesothelioma in the UK caused by exposure to zeolites. The tumour develops from a single (or very few) asbestos fibres. Due to the impossibility of identifying where the particular fibre(s) came from special legal principles have been developed to ensure the suffer can still claim. A sufferer of mesothelioma caused by asbestos in the UK need only prove that one employer or party has been negligent in materially contributing to the risk of asbestos illness in order for compensation to be awarded for the whole claim. This means if a sufferer was exposed to asbestos with 2 or more employers he/she will receive 100% compensation even if he/she only sues one of them.
What if my exposure was many years ago?

Asbestos Illness can take between 10 and 50 years after exposure to materialise. This can lead to some suffers believing it is too late to make asbestos claims. This is not correct.
No matter how long ago the exposure was time to make a claim usually runs from the date the illness was diagnosed. This is typically when the doctor advises the sufferer of the cause of his/her illness.
Normally a person has three years from the date of diagnosis to claim. In some special circumstances the courts will make exceptions to this rule. If you would like more information on this point, please call our helpline on 0151 428 2472.
What if the employer has gone out of business?

Many employers will have gone out of business due to the long length of time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of illness. This is very common and does NOT cause a problem in most cases. The claim is made against the employer but it is usual that they will have a policy of insurance, so the insurance company will cover the cost of the claim.
It is important to find the correct insurance policy so the claim can be presented to the insurance company. We are specialists in these types of searches and have great success rates.
What is “Secondary Exposure”?

Secondary exposure is indirect exposure to asbestos as a result of coming into contact with a person who is carrying the dust on their clothes or person. For example, the wife of an employee who worked with asbestos may have washed his overalls or clothes and have inhaled the dust released by the handling.
What is “Vicinity Exposure”?

Not everyone who was exposed to asbestos at work handled it directly. Often he/she was working alongside a colleague or work mate who was handling the asbestos and creating the dust. Allowing any employee to be in the vicinity of asbestos dust is negligent of employers.
What if I smoked?

Although smoking may affect the AMOUNT of compensation awarded it will NOT prevent a claim from succeeding provided it can be proved that your cancer was caused or contributed to by asbestos exposure.
It is important to ensure that a chest consultant can confirm in a written medical report that the illness is caused or contributed to by asbestos exposure. It is not possible to claim for a condition that is solely caused by smoking.
What if the sufferer has died?

If you have lost a loved one that suffered from an asbestos illness, it is possible that a claim could be made on behalf of his/her estate. Only the “Executor” or “Administrator” of the Estate has the legal right to make the claim. If a claim has already been made it is unlikely a further claim can be made, unless an agreement was made with the Defendants when the compensation was paid.
Witness evidence is very important as for the claim to be successful. We have to prove how and where the exposure took place. If you are considering making a claim you should obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers of anyone who may have witnessed the exposure taking place or who worked in the area of the exposure.
What government benefits are available?

There are a variety of benefits that can be applied for, we have listed the most important below and are happy to assist any claims you wish to make, please call our helpline on 0151 428 2472.
Before applying for any we recommend you contact either ourselves or your local asbestos victim advice charity to get specific advice for your individual situation. Please also be aware that the benefit system is currently undergoing a lot of change so the information below is subject to change.
Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit is a weekly payment made to a person with a ‘Prescribed Disease’. The amount of the payment increases with the seriousness of the disability.
‘Prescribed diseases’ include pleural thickening, asbestosis, some lung cancers and mesothelioma. It does not include pleural plaques, and the criteria for pleural thickening are very specific. In order to receive this benefit the sufferer will sometimes have to undergo a medical examination with a doctor who will check that the criteria for each illness is met. The medical is often not needed if the illness is serious.
Pneumoconiosis (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the Mesothelioma 2008 Scheme is a one-time lump sum payment. It increases with the seriousness of the condition and younger sufferers receive higher payments. If the suffer was exposed by his/ her employer, an application under the Pneumoconiosis Etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 should be made. If the sufferer was exposed not by an employer, a claim should be made under 2008 Diffuse Mesothelioma 2008 Scheme. If the suffer has died the payment can be claimed by a sufferer’s family.
Other benefits that are available include
Attendance Allowance,
Constant Attendance Allowance,
Disability Living Allowance,
War Disablement Pension,
War Widows Pension
Some of the benefits you receive may be taken into account through the Compensation Recovery Scheme when working out how much compensation you should get at the end of the claim. We will advise you how, if at all, this will affect your individual case.
What is a legal claim?

A legal claim uses the law, and if necessary the courts, to make a claim for financial compensation in respect of an injury or illness against the company or person responsible for the injury or illness.
Firstly evidence is gathered, this will include witness and medical evidence. The claim is then presented to the party who is at fault or their representative/ insurer. A response should be received that will either admit or deny the claim. If no response is received or the claim is denied then your solicitor will advise you in relation to issuing legal proceedings. Legal proceedings are not to be feared, as often Defendants are unwilling to deal with cases unless they have been “issued at Court”, so it means the case is resolved more quickly, and with lower legal costs.
How long will a legal claim take?

It is our aim to conclude cases is as short a period as possible, nevertheless the collection of evidence and tracing the employer (or their insurer) can cause delays. In certain urgent cases we have been able to settle cases within 1 month, though the majority of cases will settle within 18-24 months.
How much compensation can I expect from a legal claim?

There are two parts to every claim made for compensation of asbestos conditions, General Damages and Special Damages.
General Damages is a sum of money awarded for the injury and pain suffered. This will normally increase with the severity of the injury. The amount of General Damages is based on the JSB Guidelines and previous similar cases. Special Damages is compensation for money you are out of pocket by. This can include loss of income, travel and expenses, and money for items that you need to buy because of your injury. You can also claim for expenses in the future. The amount of past and future expenses is an arithmetical calculation based on your personal circumstances. In cases where the victim has passed away it may also be possible to pursue a claim under the Fatal Accidents Act.
Will I have to appear in court?

The court system is now designed to encourage a claim to be settled out of court. This in practice means that the solicitors for the Claimant and Defendant to a dispute talk to each other and try to reach an agreement. It is uncommon for a full trial to be necessary, which is the stage of a claim where a Claimant would have to give evidence. It is very rare for our clients to attend court. It will happen if either the Defendants does not agree to pay compensation, or does not offer enough compensation. In many cases we can predict early on that it is unlikely that the case will proceed to a full court hearing requiring the Claimant to attend court. People are often daunted by the prospect of attending court, often because of dramatic TV shows, or simply because it is an environment they have never been in. Here at Catherine Higgins Law Firm we give full support to any of our clients or their witnesses who are give evidence. We ensure that our client knows exactly what to expect and feels completely at ease.
Do I have to find evidence?

The way we prove you were exposed to asbestos is simply by you telling us about it. If you have any photographs of yourself either in your work clothes, taken in work, or with work colleagues these are very helpful. Other documents such as Indentures, Work References, Log Books, or Diaries also help us build a picture of your work life.
We can ask HM Revenue & Customs for details of the firms you worked for from tax year 1961/62 onwards which can help to jog your memory, and also to prove your employment.
Do I have to travel to your office or court?

Our office is based in Liverpool City Centre, close to buses and train stations, with good disabled access. However if you are not able to travel to our offices for any reason (for example if you are not well enough, or you find the prospect too upsetting), we are always happy to visit you at your home.
In cases where a person is too ill to attend court, we will arrange for a doctor to confirm this in writing. We can then either request the Court take your evidence as a signed statement, or you can give evidence in your own home. We will discuss your requirements with you in detail as each case is individual.
What is a “Coroner’s Inquest”?

If a sufferer of asbestos illness passes away, the death may be reported to a “Coroner” who may decide an investigation or ‘inquest’ is necessary.
A “Coroner” is independent and is tasked with the job of finding out who has died, when and where the death occurred, and what caused the death. The Coroner will not comment on who may be to blame for the death. He/she is not part of the police.
The attending doctor(s) or medical professionals who were caring for the deceased person shortly before he/she died are under a duty to report the death to the Coroner if they consider it should be investigated, but a family member or GP can also report the death too.
The Coroner will then collect evidence that will help him/ her to decide on the verdict and cause of the death. In doing this the Coroner will often contact close friends and relatives to find out about the circumstances of the deceased person’s work and exposure to asbestos. It is sometimes necessary to have a hearing of the evidence in the Coroner’s Court. Although this is a formal hearing, Coroner’s Courts are sympathetic to grieving relatives and friends. If you are worried about a Coroner’s hearing please contact us and we will arrange for you to be represented or accompanied for support.
If the Coroner finds that the death was caused by exposure to asbestos at work, he will reach a verdict that the death was caused by industrial disease.
What is a post-mortem examination?

If the reason for a person’s death is not clear, the Coroner may request that the body is examined. A pathologist will do this and then write a report confirming what was found. The report is used by the Coroner to help decide on the cause of death. The pathologist may take some small samples from the body for further testing. If this is done the Coroner will ask the family what they would like to happen to the samples once the testing is complete. If the family are considering making a legal claim it is very important that the samples are retained and stored as more testing may be required in the future.
I have been exposed to asbestos recently, am I at risk?

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to asbestos you should firstly take care to ensure you are not exposed to any further asbestos dust. The dangers of asbestos increase with the amount of asbestos dust that is inhaled and a very small amount of exposure carries a smaller risk. It takes a long time (at least10 years, often 20 – 40 or more years) for an asbestos illness to develop after breathing in asbestos dust.
You are unlikely to have developed an asbestos related condition, so will not be able to make a claim unless you are injured. If you are worried, visit your GP and discuss your concerns. Your GP may send you for a chest x-ray to put your mind at ease.
If the exposure was caused by unsafe work practices you should consider if the Health and Safety Executive should be informed. They may wish to investigate and could take action against companies who breach health and safety laws.
I have asbestos in my house, what can I do?

If you are worried you may have asbestos in your home, the most important point is not to touch or disturb it. If you live in a rented or corporation property, you should contact your landlord or the council and inform them you are concerned asbestos is in the property. They should arrange for the property to be inspected by a qualified specialist who can advise on whether the material is asbestos and if so, how it should be dealt with.
If you own your own home you should contact a licenced asbestos safety and removal company. There are many who will inspect your home and offer to either remove or make safe the asbestos by sealing it. You may wish to obtain a few quotes before deciding who to use.
How do I contact a solicitor to find out if I might have a claim?

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Claim settled September 2012

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