Is there a time limit on asbestos compensation claims?

Posted: 18th Jan 19 11:00 AM

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease and want to take legal action to claim compensation, you will need to get advice from experts as soon as possible, as there are strict time limits on starting an asbestos claim.

Asbestos-related diseases can take anywhere between 10 and 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos dust. Most people in the United Kingdom were exposed to asbestos many years ago, throughout the mid-20th century when asbestos was used widely in construction and industry.

Fortunately the legal time limit does not start when a person was exposed to asbestos, but a person must act quickly if they suspect that they might have developed an asbestos-related disease after exposure in their past.

What are the legal time limits?

In England and Wales the law regarding time limits is contained in the Limitation Act 1980. The legislation sets a 3-year statutory time limit for making a personal injury claim for industrial disease compensation. This is known as the limitation period.

The 1980 Act can be difficult to interpret and when it comes to asbestos claims it is important to talk to a solicitor who knows the complex legislation and relevant case law.

Even if you believe you could be out of time to make an asbestos compensation claim, it is worth checking with a specialist. There are rare occasions when a claim can be made past the 3-year limitation period, so ask about your legal rights.

When does the 3-year limitation period begin?

In general, the limitation period begins from the date you were first diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, such as asbestosis, diffuse pleural thickening or mesothelioma, and a claim must be made before this 3-year time period ends.

Can an asbestos-related compensation claim be made after death?

Sometimes after the death of a sufferer, it is not immediately known that they died from an asbestos-related disease, or even had one. In this circumstance, the executor will have 3 years from the date of the sufferer’s death, or 3 years from the date you ought to have known that their death was caused by an asbestos-related disease, to start a claim for compensation.

If an individual knows about their asbestos-related disease, but dies within the 3-year limitation period without making a claim, then the limitation period will restart from the date of their death for their executors to bring forward a claim.

When should you have known of an asbestos illness?

A person’s date of knowledge that they have an asbestos-related disease can be hard to pinpoint for the purposes of a compensation case.

Section 14(1) of the 1980 Act states that the date of knowledge is the date on which a person first became aware that the injury – in this case the asbestos-related disease – was significant, that it can be attributed in whole or in part to the act of negligent exposure to airborne asbestos dust, and the defendant (usually an employee liability insurer) can be identified.

Section 14(3) goes on to state that ‘knowledge’ includes that which the person might reasonably have been expected to acquire from facts observable or ascertainable by the person; or from facts ascertainable by the person with the help of medical or other appropriate expert advice which it is reasonable for him to seek.

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 the sufferer but may not write it on the medical report. It can be complicated and the best course of action is to speak to a specialist in asbestos compensation claims.

When can you make an application to extend the 3-year limitation period?

Under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 a person can make an application to the court to extend the limitation period if the compensation claim was not brought in time or there is not enough time left to proceed.

Section 33 states that the court can allow an out-of-time case in certain circumstance. The court’s decision must have regard to the degree to which the 3-year limitation period can prejudice the person with an asbestos-related disease or any person whom they represent; and balance that with any prejudice against the defendant or any person whom he represents.

Section 33(3) also states which specific issues the court should take into account when deciding whether an out-of-time case may go ahead, including:

  • The length of the delay
  • The reasons for the delay on the part of the claimant
  • The extent to which this delay has affected the strength of the evidence
  • The conduct of the defendant
  • The extent to which the claimant acted promptly once he knew that he could bring a claim
  • The steps that he has taken to obtain medico-legal or other expert evidence

What have the courts said about challenging the limitation period?

Court decisions relevant to asbestos and the 3-year limitation period are complex. While decisions in such cases are based on the circumstances and evidence unique to the case before the judge, the results are a precedent or a guide to how the Limitation Act 1980 may be interpreted by the courts in future cases.

A number of cases have allowed out-of-time or late claims to proceed because the person had a significant asbestos disease and was excused due to the impact of the symptoms. Obviously, it is hard to consider anything else when you are given a shock diagnosis of a life threatening disease and your health, care and time with your family is your priority.

What should I do if I have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease?

The best course of action if you are concerned about the limitation period and would like to know your legal rights is to get in touch with the National Asbestos Helpline.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, or has passed away with one, it is important to discuss your circumstances with a specialist asbestos lawyer. At the National Asbestos Helpline, we work closely with a team of expert solicitors to advise and assist you and your family through what can be a tough and confusing process. Our advice is free and confidential with no obligations. You can call us on 0800 043 6635, email enquiries@nationalasbestos.co.uk, or fill in our contact form here for us to get back to you.

Further reading

What is the asbestos compensation claims process?

How long does it take to develop an asbestos-related disease?

Can I claim for asbestos exposure?

Can I claim for pleural plaques?