Peace of mind with our expert asbestos solicitors
A person diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer, asbestosis or pleural thickening may be able to claim compensation for past exposure to asbestos.
If you have been exposed to the deadly dust and fibres you are owed justice and financial peace of mind, so that you can meet your own needs now and prepare for your family’s future.
The National Asbestos Helpline is a free service provided by Birchall Blackburn Law, which has a team of specialist, experienced and dedicated asbestos lawyers. In order to support those people diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease with a full service – from benefits to compensation – the National Asbestos Helpline relies on Birchall Blackburn Law to provide the legal expertise required to help asbestos sufferers.
How long does an asbestos sufferer have to make a compensation claim?
It is important for anyone diagnosed with any type of asbestos-related lung disease to protect their rights by getting legal advice swiftly.
An asbestos-related condition, caused as a result of asbestos exposure in the course of employment, is treated as a personal injury in the eyes of the law. This means you may be eligible for benefits and compensation but it also means that you face a race against the clock to secure the compensation to which you are entitled.
The Limitation Act 1980 imposes time deadlines after which it is difficult to bring a claim. In relation to personal injury matters the act provides that a claimant generally has three years from diagnosis. However, the rules can be complicated.
What is the date of knowledge in an asbestos-related compensation claim?
The date of knowledge is important because victims of asbestos disease usually become aware of the cause of their condition not at the onset of symptoms but following examinations and tests by medical professionals. The courts have interpreted the date of knowledge as being the date on which the claimant knew, or should have known, he or she suffered from an asbestos-related condition. This interpretation imposes upon you an objective test: when would a reasonable man, in the same circumstances as you, have known he had a personal injury caused as a result of his exposure to asbestos?
Sometimes the date of knowledge is easy to pin-point simply by examining medical records. However, on many occasions medical records make reference to the possibility, or presence, of asbestos-related conditions but do not clearly identify an asbestos-related diagnosis. In some cases doctors and nurses will mention asbestos or an asbestos-related disease verbally to you but may not write it on the medical report.
The result can sometimes be that you are prevented from making a compensation claim because you are deemed to have knowledge of your asbestos-related condition some time before you knew for certain.
To avoid any time related problems it is always best to take legal advice as soon as possible.
What are provisional damages in an asbestos-related case?
By taking legal action as soon as possible after your diagnosis – even if your symptoms do not seem too bad at the time – you can opt for a provisional damages settlement. This allows you to return for further damages if you suffer a significant deterioration in your current condition or get another more serious asbestos-related illness. You are protecting your rights by acting now. A provisional damages settlement is akin to an insurance policy against future risks.
If you do not act quickly after being diagnosed with an asbestos-related lung disease you could miss the three-year deadline and the chance to claim compensation. That means if you later experience more severe symptoms, or develop a more serious lung disease, there is every chance that you will then be out of time.
It is vital that you receive specialist advice in respect of provisional damage settlements. Sometimes a defendant will seek to ‘buy off’ the risk of a court awarding provisional damages by offering a higher lump sum. Depending on your circumstances and the facts of the case this might be inappropriate. A solicitor specialising in asbestos compensation claims will be in the best position to give you the pros and cons.
Work with an experienced asbestos solicitor
It is very important to work with an experienced solicitor specialised in asbestos compensation claims. It is a very complicated and difficult area of law. A specialist asbestos lawyer will shoulder the burden and let you and your family focus on care and health issues.
An experienced solicitor may also handle separate claims for government benefits.
Will I have to pay for the solicitor’s help and support?
Most experienced asbestos solicitors will provide free initial advice. If the claim does progress then you should never be left out of pocket or pay anything up-front when making an asbestos compensation claim. In most asbestos claims the solicitor will work on a conditional fee agreement (CFA), which is more commonly known as a ‘no win, no fee’ agreement.
What are the early stages of an asbestos-related compensation claim?
In the early stage of a compensation claim the solicitor will want to establish as quickly as possible that:
- You have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, and are within the time period
- You have had sufficient exposure to asbestos dust and fibres to cause your asbestos disease
- There is an insurer to bring a case against
It is important that the solicitor records the evidence in a witness statement as soon as possible. This ensures that the evidence of when, where and how you were exposed to asbestos is preserved. The solicitor will usually visit you in the comfort of your own home.
How do I get hold of my medical records?
The solicitor will ask you to sign authority forms so that they can access your medical records from your GP and consultant. The solicitor will instruct an experienced and independent consultant to confirm the diagnosis.
It can take between three and four months to be sent medical records but the Ministry of Justice is working with the National Cancer Registration Service and Public Health England to speed up the process of obtaining hospital medical records in cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer.
How do I get a copy of my work history?
With your permission through a signed authority form, the solicitor will also apply to the HM Revenue and Customs for your work history. From the witness statement and work history, the solicitor will make efforts to trace the relevant employers and/or insurance companies.
At the moment it can take nearly 14 months for the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to process and send a work history. However, in cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer the HMRC will prioritise the request and the records should be received within a month.
Are there any government benefits available to asbestos sufferers?
At an early stage an experienced solicitor should also help you handle separate claims for government benefits. You can find out about the main benefits relevant to asbestos-related lung diseases here.
How long will an asbestos-related compensation claim take?
It is difficult to say how long the legal process will take. Every case is different. For instance, it can depend on what you are diagnosed with, the wait for medical and work history, and whether you need time to appeal for extra witnesses. Each case is decided on its own facts.
In the case of people living with mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer most solicitors will aim to settle a claim without going to court within six months. However it can take longer, for example, if the case requires the solicitor to trace witnesses or the insurance company of an out-of-business employer or the case has other complications.
For more information about the mesothelioma legal process please click here.
How much can I expect to receive from an asbestos-related compensation claim?
Valuations will differ depending on your diagnosis. For example, compensation can vary depending on whether you have been diagnosed with pleural thickening or mesothelioma. Due to the severity and crippling symptoms of mesothelioma – a type of lung cancer – compensation can be considerably higher. An average mesothelioma award is £145,000 but the awards can be significantly greater and sometimes lower.
General damages are awarded for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity.
The amount of compensation for general damages will depend on the type of lung disease, its severity and the long term affects and symptoms. The ranges of awards are made from £32,000 to £95,000.
As well as general damages, financial losses can be claimed, called special damages. These are very important to an asbestos-related disease sufferer because they will help cover future care and other things that you can no longer do. They are based on economic losses and can include paying for a gardener or housekeeper as you are no longer able to do that sort of everyday work.
Special damages can include:
- Care costs
- Medical expenses (including travel to and from hospital)
- Loss of earnings
- Pension claims
- Accommodation claims
- Dependency claims
- Bereavement claims
- Services for the home
- Changes to the home and vehicle
An experienced asbestos solicitor will consider all these factors and ensure that you properly claim for all appropriate losses.
Can you claim compensation for asbestos exposure on behalf of the deceased?
If you are the spouse, partner, child or close family member of someone who has recently died as a result of an asbestos-related disease it is still possible to make a compensation claim.
If a compensation claim has already been started by the deceased then a family member can continue the claim on their behalf.
It is also important to remember that there are government benefits available to a carer, widow or widower. More information about benefits can be found here.
What is the role of the coroner in asbestos-related deaths?
Following death from an asbestos-related disease, or where it is suspected that asbestos may have played a part, an inquest will be carried out by a coroner.
The coroner’s job is to independently establish why the person has died and the circumstances.
It is usual for medical professionals – such as a GP or hospital staff – to report the death to the local coroner. However, if there has been no asbestos-related diagnosis but you suspect that asbestos exposure played a part in the death, then you should contact the coroner.
The coroner’s verdict and findings can be an important part of the evidence in a civil claim for compensation. A verdict of ‘industrial disease’ as cause of death can support a claim. However, a successful compensation claim may still be possible without an ‘industrial disease’ verdict.
To establish how a person died it may be necessary for a pathologist to perform a post-mortem. The decision to hold a post-mortem rests with the coroner. During the examination tissue samples will be taken and it is vital that these tissue samples are not destroyed. They may be needed at a later date for further analysis and could be used as part of the evidence required for an asbestos-related civil claim. The coroner’s office will ask what you would like to do with the tissue samples once the inquest is complete – it is important to instruct them to retain the tissue samples. With your permission your solicitor can contact the coroner to ensure the samples are saved and protected.
By working with an experienced asbestos claims solicitor you can look to them for advice and support during an inquest period.
Is the compensation claims procedure different for mesothelioma sufferers?
Due to the aggressive and terminal nature of mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer, the civil claims procedure is a little different to compensation claims relating to asbestosis and pleural thickening.
An experienced asbestos solicitor will be able to speed-up the response and resolution of a compensation claim in cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer. You solicitor will be able to secure your medical and employment histories quickly from the relevant organisations, and organise for interim court payments ahead of a final settlement.
There is a specialist Mesothelioma Fast Track court procedure to benefit sufferers and ensure where possible they have the benefit of any compensation in their lifetime. Once a claim has begun the court asks why judgement should not be given on the case. If there is no credible defence, judgement will be given and a mesothelioma sufferer will be awarded £50,000 as an interim payment.
The government has set up a fund called the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme to provide financial support for sufferers and dependants when compensation cannot be claimed because it has proven impossible to trace a previous employer or insurance company. People suffering from mesothelioma can apply to receive 100% of the average compensation award for civil claims made.
The fund only helps those people diagnosed with mesothelioma after July 25, 2012.
It is important to remember that it is not enough for a victim to simply show that they have mesothelioma. A victim has to show that legally they would have had a good case if the employer or its insurer could have been traced.
For more insight into the mesothelioma claims process please follow the link here.