For three centuries, the world considered asbestos a wonder material. Tough, durable, and heat-resistant, this versatile material dominated the building industry. But in the last eight decades before the UK ban in 1999, asbestos dominated the news for its negative health effects.
Asbestos exposure claims hit the courts as victims sought compensation. As a victim, here’s everything you need to know about these claims.
The History of Asbestos
When it first came into use in the early 1700s, the Industrial Revolution was at its peak. Back then, the manufacturing and building industries were searching for a strong, durable, and – more importantly – a fire-resistant material. After they found these qualities in a new, fibrous, silicate mineral called asbestos, they quickly incorporated it into their operations.
How Asbestos Was Used
Suddenly, the mineral appeared in insulation panels, fire doors, gutters, tiles, and even wall plaster. And being fibrous, it also found a place in the textile industry. For the next two hundred years, the material remained an integral part of the UK industry.
Medical Research into Asbestos Exposure
But by the early 1900s, the fibres giving asbestos its famous qualities came under the scrutiny of the medical fraternity. Doctors suspected the asbestos fibres caused lung diseases, but no one could connect the two. In the 1920’s, someone did. But despite this revelation, it would take the UK eight decades to ban the material.
What about asbestos justified the ban? When breathed in, the fine fibres within the material scarred the lungs or thickened the lung cavity. And if this exposure continued for many years, the lungs or the pleural membrane covering it developed cancerous tumours.
But, the most insidious thing about asbestos-related diseases is the long time it takes for their symptoms to manifest. So, by the time this happens, the disease is already incurable.
Exposure to Asbestos Fibres
The question, then, begs: How are you exposed to these disease-causing fibres? When the material is disturbed, usually through handling, microscopic fibres detach from it and disperse in the air. The handler then breathes in the fibres, which attach themselves to the lungs. Throughout the material’s 300 year history, this has remained the typical method of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos Exposure in Old Construction Sites
As we’ve just seen, to be exposed to the asbestos fibres, you must first handle the material. We’ve also seen where asbestos was primarily used – in the building industry. Although no one builds using the material anymore, many people who did so in the past were exposed to it. They include plumbers, masons, engineers, and architects to name a few.
Asbestos Exposure in Old Buildings
But, don’t think yourself lucky because you didn’t work on an old construction site. Those sites are now buildings in which people live, work, and get exposed to asbestos. The most affected of these buildings are the ageing ones, especially ageing public buildings. In them, experts estimate that as much as half of all the asbestos ever used still remains.
Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure
Maybe you live or work in one of these old buildings. How do you know you’ve been exposed to asbestos? When you get a tight feeling in the chest followed by sharp pain, seek medical attention. Do the same if you struggle to breathe or if you have a chronic cough. Likewise, see a doctor if you’re always tired because of restricted breathing.
Time it Takes for Symptoms to Appear
Unfortunately, you’ll not experience these symptoms the moment you enter an old asbestos-laden building. As mentioned earlier, symptoms manifest after many years. In fact, it could be as long as four decades. But typically, you’ll get chest problems after 10 years or so.
What to Do When Exposed to Asbestos
When you get symptoms, and a GP confirms you’re suffering an asbestos-related illness, what’s your next step? That would be finding out how to get compensated for your suffering. You should start seeking solicitors who are experienced in filing asbestos claims. Based on the GP’s report, the solicitor will determine whether you have a valid claim, before recommending further action.
Making a Claim
How do solicitors know you qualify for a claim? According to Roper James Solicitors, one of the most prominent law firms for asbestos cases, anyone can qualify as long as they have an asbestos-related illness. However, the tricky bit is determining who’s responsible for the said illness.
Remember, by the time you go to the GP, you’ll have been exposed to asbestos fibre for a decade or more. So, pinning down the responsible party can be difficult.
Three-Year Time Limit on Claims
Although you’ve contracted an asbestos-related illness, an injury lawyer could still turn down your case because of the statute of limitations. Under the law, you must file a claim within three years of your diagnosis. So, when your GP confirms your illness, immediately start the claims process.
Filing a Claim for a Deceased Person
What happens when time runs out for the victim, not for the claim? In such a case, the victim’s relatives can proceed with the claim. But they must do so not more than three years after their loved one’s death.
Who to Make a Claim Against
As long as someone exposed you to asbestos, you can pursue them for compensation. And if more than one person did so, you pursue all or only one.
Making a Claim against a Defunct Companies
However, what happens if the company you’re pursuing went out of business long ago? Even then, it’s still liable for the claims. But instead of going after a dead entity, most lawyers will track down the company’s insurer and file a claim against them, not the company. Or, if the company is trading under a new name, the solicitor goes after this new entity.
How Long a Claim Takes
Whether it’s for a living or a dead claimant or against a thriving or a defunct company, a typical claim stays in court for about 18 to 24 months. And because each case is different, some take even longer. However, a select few take less than six months. These are the ones the High Court considers urgent.
Proving a Claim
Although you never know how long a claim will take, it usually depends on the amount of hard evidence you possess. For instance, your illness must, of course, be asbestos-related. But more importantly, this diagnosis must have been made by a registered medical professional.
Next, you must show your illness resulted from working with asbestos. If any of your former colleagues suffered from asbestos-related illness, you can prove the exposure came from one source. Also, your employer must have known about the dangers of asbestos but neglected to either warn or protect you.
Remember, the hazards of asbestos inhalation were public knowledge for 80 years before the government ban. So, this is one of the easy things to prove.
The hardest one to prove is asbestos exposure that occurred decades ago. Any evidence or documents to prove your case will most likely be non-existent. So, to support your case, you must present witness statements from family, friends, and former colleagues.
Are you an asbestos victim? Or, do you know someone who is? If that’s the case, you should consider contacting a personal injury solicitor right way, as they’ll be able to guide you through proper course of action and get the compensation you deserve.