A guide to an asbestos-related disease case
All cases start with the client, the injured person. Typically, at some point during (most often, but not always) their working life, a person with an asbestos-related disease would have been exposed to asbestos, but this might have occurred away from work.
The exposure could have been in a factory, in an office, at school, or in the home. At the time, the person who was exposed may not even have been aware that they were breathing in deadly asbestos fibres, because their employer didn’t tell them of the dangers of the dust they breathed in, and, or, didn’t provide them with protective equipment, or other means of reducing the amount of dust in the atmosphere.
Having been exposed, the individual willl continue to live their life, unaware that anything is wrong. However, inside their body, the asbestos fibres are causing changes that will eventually cause them to start suffering symptoms. This can take anywhere from 10 years to 60 years to develop, although the typical time period is usually around 40 years, but it has no upper limit.
Symptoms of an asbestos-related disease usually begin with breathlessness when doing something strenuous, accompanied by a cough, chest pain, or a feeling of tightness in the chest. Usually, the first place people will go to is their family doctor (GP), and typically they will be referred to the hospital for a chest x-ray. The report back from the x-ray is likely to have further investigations, typically a CT scan, thoracoscopy, biopsy and pleural drainage.
Following the discovery of the asbestos-related condition, the case is discussed at a multi-disciplinary team meeting, and the affected individual will be called in for their results and next steps. At the meeting with their consultant, there is usually a specialist clinical lung cancer nurse present to offer support and practical guidance and information to the individual and their family.
The nurse will offer lots of information about various resources to assist the individual with their asbestos diagnosis, including giving details of their local asbestos support group, the charity Mesothelioma UK, and a list of specialist solicitors who are able to assist with any legal claims.
Usually, it's at that stage – in the immediate aftermath of an asbestos-disease diagnosis – that our specialist asbestos disease solicitors get to meet the ndividual diagnosed and their loved ones.
Steps to making an asbestos claim
We know from our decades of experience of running asbestos cases that it is a distressing and disorientating time for everyone involved. Here, we offer a roadmap of the asbestos claims process to help explain what typically happens at each stage of a compensation claim for an asbestos-related disease.
Click on the steps below to discover more information.
The person who has been diagnosed is often overwhelmed by the amount of information at first. However, in our experience that within a few days, they do make contact with Thompsons Solicitors. Contact can be made either via the Freephone telephone helpline on 0800 0 224 224 or by completing our online claim form.
The person speaks directly to a member of Thompsons' specialist asbestos team. Within 48 hours of making contact, a member of the team will visit the person at their home, or if they are very unwell at a hospital or in a hospice. At the visit, the lawyer will take a detailed statement regarding the person's exposure to asbestos, as well as their work history. Even where they cannot remember where they were exposed to asbestos, Thompsons' specialist team has detailed knowledge of the use of asbestos and can identify through talking with the person where that asbestos exposure has occurred. Details regarding the emotional and financial impact of the diagnosis are also taken, and detailed advice is given on the process of bringing a legal asbestos claim, and what that will involve.
If the person has not already contacted their local asbestos support group, Thompsons passes on the individual’s details – with their permission - to the asbestos support group in order that they can get help to make a claim for benefits. People diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease are entitled to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and a Workers Compensation Act lump sum payment. These benefits are not means tested, and provide an additional weekly or monthly income to help assist with any increased costs of living following the diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease.
Thompsons Solicitors' investigations to prove asbestos exposure begins with a search for a viable Defendant that we can make a claim against. National Insurance records wil confirm the correct company names of the client's former employers, back to 1961. These are used to trace any companies still in existence. Where a company that someone worked for is no longer operating, our experts will access company searches to trace information for directors or company secretaries, and will use the Employers Liability Tracing Office to obtain details of previous insurance policies held by now-defunct companies, to make a claim against them.
Medical records are obtained, and we search our extensive archives to obtain details of other claims against the same companies in the past, which may provide useful witness evidence to support our case. Any details we are provided with of former colleagues are also chased up to see if other workmates will be able to provide helpful statements about where they worked.
Once a viable Defendant's insurance policy we can make a claim against is found, we will submit a claim, and at the same time instruct specialist Consultant Respiratory Physician to provide a medical report with asbestos medical evidence. We will arrange for a registered general nurse to visit our client, to assess any care needs and advise on any adaptions to the home they think will be helpful to enable them to be independent for as long as possible, and as comfortable as possible. If non-NHS treatments are being considered, contact is made with the treating oncologist to discuss their views on the person’s suitability for immunotherapy treatments at the appropriate time, and a specialist report from a Consultant Oncologist is obtained.
As soon as the medical evidence is complete, a Schedule of Loss is drafted. This sets out the financial losses that will occur as a result of the asbestos-related disease. Although no amount of money can ever properly compensate a person and their family for what they will go through, let alone their loss, it is our job to get them the maximum compensation possible.
We instruct specialist barristers to prepare papers for an asbestos court claim, in case the Defendants do not enter into settlement negotiations. A lawyer from Thompsons will visit the person again, at their home or at a place that suits them, to discuss the evidence in the case, and to provide a valuation of their asbestos claim. In some cases, different options for settlement are discussed, if appropriate, to make sure that the person receives the best advice for their particular circumstances.
Once our client is happy to proceed, all the evidence is disclosed to the Defendants, and an offer in settlement should follow. If no settlement offers are made within 14 days, Court proceedings are commenced in the specialist asbestos 'track' which has been set up by the Royal Courts of Justice, before a specialist Judge, known as a Master.
The first Court hearing is listed quickly. The hearing is a meeting between the Master and the solicitors for both sides. The Master usually makes a decision at that hearing as to whether the Defendant has a reasonable Defence to the claim. If no reasonable defence has been made, then the Master will make an order for there to be an interim payment. The Master will also set a date for the Court to assess the total order of the claim should the parties fail to agree a settlement figure between themselves.
Before the case reaches its final hearing, the parties continue to negotiate and we keep our client fully informed. Ultimately, if the parties cannot agree on a figure of settlement through negotiation, the asbestos case proceeds to a final hearing. At that hearing, the Master will consider all the evidence, and decide how much should be awarded in compensation. It is unusual but not unheard of for a case to go to a hearing, but most are secured before that.
Who is responsible for covering the cost of legal fees?
At the end of the case, there will be costs incurred from representing the person exposed to asbestos but this will not be a payment by our client. If the case is successful, then the costs are paid by the Defendants, and no contribution is required from the client. Unlike other lawyers, Thompsons does not take a ‘success fee’, or a percentage of a person’s damages, in asbestos-related disease claims. Our clients get to keep 100 per cent of the compensation due to them. In the highly rare cases where the claim is not successful, the costs will be met through an insurance policy designed to cover our asbestos cases. Find out more about our fees on our fees and payment page.
What happens if the person suffering does not survive?
Sometimes, very sadly, the person suffering from an asbestos-related disease does not survive to see the conclusion of their claim. Where this happens, Thompsons' specialist team will assist the family with the Coroner’s investigations, including supplying the Coroner with details of work history and exposure to asbestos.
Of course, nothing we can do can mitigate the emotional devastation caused by losing a loved one to asbestos-related disease, but when the family are ready, we can continue to pursue the case on behalf of next of kin, to ensure that compensation is obtained, and the financial impact of their premature death is lessened as much as possible.
Are you ready to make an asbestos claim?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, you are entitled to make a compensation claim. Start your claim by completing our online claim form, or call our asbestos specialist team on 0800 0 224 224 to discuss your case.
For more information on making a claim, visit our asbestos claims page.
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Raising awareness of asbestos exposure and supporting those who are suffering
We are giving a voice to those with asbestos-related illnesses, their families and industries. We want to tell their stories - past and present. If you or a loved one is suffering because of previous asbestos exposure, find out how our asbestos lawyers can help you here.