123 Personal Injury Claims - Legal Advice on Obtaining Compensation for Pleural Plaques,
Asbestosis, Mesothelioma and other Industrial Disease suffered at Work

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Historical uses of asbestos

Asbestos was most commonly used for roofing and insulation purposes, particularly in the construction and shipping industries.

Asbestos is the only mineral that can be woven into cloth. It also has an amazing ability to withstand heat. Asbestos can even be sprayed.

The substance came to be termed the "magic mineral" because of its versatility.

Among the occupations where exposure to asbestos dust has resulted in asbestosis claims, mesothelioma claims and pleural plaques claims for compensation in the UK are the following:

The emergence of asbestosis

The first cases of asbestosis were noted as early as 1900.

In 1924, an English doctor performed a post-mortem examination on the body of a deceased 33 year-old woman who had worked in an asbestos textile factory, where she had worked for 13 years.

The post-mortem revealed extensive lung damage, which was linked to her occupation. The term "asbestosis" first started to be used after the report was published in 1927,

Merewether and Price Report 1930

As a result of the above, the UK government commissioned Merewether and Price to investigate and report on the state of health of individuals working with asbestos.

Their resultant report was published in 1930 and is widely acknowledged to be a turning point in the development of medical knowledge about asbestos. The report showed that chronic exposure to high concentrations of asbestos could lead to asbestosis.

Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931

Subsequently, the 1931 Asbestos Industry Regulations were published, these coming into force on 1 March 1932. The general thrust of the 1931 Regulations was directed towards the asbestos manufacturing industries.

However, Merewether and Price did recognise that other users of asbestos products, such as laggers and shipbuilders, were heavily exposed to asbestos dust and could be at risk.

HM Chief Inspector of Factories circular letter 1945

In 1945 the Chief Inspector of factories sent a letter to employers and employees organisations outlining his concern about the risks to health from exposure to asbestos during shipbuilding and ship repairing work. He suggested precautions that could and should be adopted to reduce the risk to a minimum.

This letter, dated August 1945, drew particular attention to the need to take action to deal with asbestos dust associated with:

It advocated the provision and use of suitable respirators for those engaged in work with asbestos containing insulation and spraying asbestos.

Wagner Paper 1960

The next milestone came in 1960, when Wagner and others reported a series of 33 cases in South Africa that showed a clear association between exposure to crocidolite asbestos and mesothelioma.

Although many of the cases previously had a prolonged history of exposure to asbestos fibres from living or working near asbestos mines, four such cases were associated with an occupational exposure to processed asbestos.

This discovery marked another turning point in attitudes to asbestos hazards.

Newhouse and Thompson Paper 1965

In 1965, Newhouse and Thompson reported on 83 cases of mesothelioma in the London area.

Among the cases of mesothelioma noted, 23 were asbestos factory workers, 8 were laggers, 9 were relatives who those who worked with asbestos and 11 lived within half a mile of an asbestos factory.

The media began to take an interest and in 1965 The Sunday Times published a front-page article reporting the mesothelioma-inducing properties of asbestos.

The significance of the Newhouse and Thompson paper is that it showed occupational, domestic and environmental exposure could cause mesothelioma.

First successful personal injury claim

Personal injury compensation claims for UK victims of negligent exposure to asbestos became increasingly possible after 1971, when the Court of Appeal decided the first such case. The writ had been issued in 1967.

This case paved the way for subsequent asbestosis claims, mesothelioma claims and pleural plaques claims for compensation in the UK.

The issuing of the above writ led to a good deal of publicity, one of the effects of which was the issuing of the Asbestos Regulations 1969, which came into effect on 14 May 1970.

The Asbestos Regulations 1969

The 1969 Regulations set the hygiene standard for the 3 three principal forms of asbestos, these being: Chrysotile (white asbestos), Amosite (brown asbestos) and Crocidolite (blue asbestos):
2 fibres per ml for Chrysotile and Amosite,
0.2 fibres per ml for Crocidolite

In 1983, the Health and Safety Executive tightened these limits further, as follows:
1 fibre per ml for Chrysotile,
0.5 fibres per ml for Amosite,
0.2 fibres per ml for Crocidolite

In 1984, the Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations tightened these limits further, as follows:
0.5 fibres per ml for Chrysotile,
0.2 fibres per ml for Amosite,
0.2 fibres per ml for Crocidolite

The main asbestos related conditions: mesothelioma, asbestosis, and pleural plaques

Most people who have been exposed to asbestos dust do not go on to develop an illness. As yet, experts are unable to say why some people suffer subsequent symptoms, while other do not.

Mesothelioma

In the UK, about 80-90% of mesotheliomas can be traced to blue or brown asbestos. There is little evidence to indicate that the condition is caused by white asbestos.

Mesothelioma affects the covering of the lung, and less commonly, the lining of the abdomen. The disease can take 20-50 years or even longer to develop.

Mesotheliomas are generally very resistant to any form of therapy and carry a grave prognosis. The disease can be caused by relatively low exposures.

Asbestosis

Clinically, asbestosis is associated with heavy prolonged exposures, usually not developing in less than 20 years.

This condition refers to asbestos related fibrosis of the lung tissues. Associated symptoms include clubbing of the fingernails and abdominal chest sounds (crackles).

The scarring of the lungs causes increasing breathlessness and disability. Death may result from pulmonary hypertension and cardiac failure.

Pleural plaques

These are small pearly grey patches of thickening of the pleura (the lining of the lung), usually the size of a coin.

They are nearly always asymptomatic and become evident on chest radiography 20 years or more after the first exposure to asbestos.

They can develop after much lower exposure to asbestos than mesothelioma or asbestosis. Other substances can cause pleural plaques, besides asbestos.

Lung cancer

This condition refers to a malignant tumour of the lung. Such tumours are more common in people who smoke and are simultaneously exposed to asbestos.

Bringing UK personal injury compensation claims for mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural plaques

Duty of care/statutory duty

As in any personal injury claim, the first step is to establish that a "duty of care" is owed to the injured person. If there is an employer/employee relationship then the duty of care is self-evident.

As regards contractors, then as a rule the "occupiers" of the site are likely to owe a common law duty of care as to the state of the premises, which in turn will include the production of asbestos dust and its extraction.

Foreseeability of injury

In an asbestos related case, the question of foreseeability tends to include a consideration of the following 3 factors.

Firstly, there is the type of asbestos used. Different types present different levels of danger, for example, crocidolite (blue asbestos) can be roughly 500 times more dangerous than chrysotile (white asbestos).

Secondly, there is the length of exposure.

Thirdly, there is the level of exposure over the period in question.

So as to address the above three points, detailed witness evidence must be obtained that gives a detailed account of the exposure, on the length of exposure, the level and circumstances of the exposure, and if possible the precise substance handled.

Breach of duty

The next stage is to prove breach of duty. This aspect is rarely a problem in such cases, given the advancement of the public awareness of the risks detailed above.

Usually, the breach will be dealt with by factual evidence, for example that the injured person was never warned, no dust extraction equipment was provided, and there were no respirators and/or an insufficient supply of filters.

Causation

Provided all of the above has been established, the next question is that of "causation".

To establish causation, it is necessary first to have a diagnosis of the person's condition and secondly a medical link to the exposure complained of.

As a rule, the treating physician will have given most claimants a diagnosis before they seek legal advice.

Making a claim

If all of the above elements are satisfied, then it will be worthwhile considering a claim for compensation.

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