As the UK approaches the 50th anniversary of the first-ever successful asbestos compensation case in the House of Lords, a leading law firm is warning that the consequences of asbestos exposure must not be dismissed as history.
Asbestos law specialists Thompsons Solicitors has called for greater awareness of asbestos in the UK following a growth in the number of legal claims they are pursuing for women and white-collar workers.
Historically, asbestos illnesses tended to affect men working in heavy industry, but according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than one in six deaths from mesothelioma, a fatal asbestos cancer, are female .
Meanwhile, the HSE has reported that more than 5,000 people are dying in the UK from asbestos diseases every year.
Tony Hood, national head of asbestos strategy at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Despite being banned more than two decades ago, asbestos is still taking thousands of lives every year. With symptoms sometimes taking up to 40 years to develop after asbestos exposure, we don’t see these tragic statistics changing for the better any time soon.
“With asbestos still present in 1.5 million buildings in the UK , including schools, hospitals and offices, asbestos disease will continue to shatter individual’s lives, and those of their families, for many years to come. This will not just be older men who work in manual industries – which is the stereotype most likely given to those suffering with asbestos diseases – but will be women and white-collar workers too. Asbestos is deadly – it does not discriminate.”
The call for action comes 50 years on from a landmark House of Lords Judgment on 28 June 1972.
Thompsons Solicitors was successful in the case on behalf of Mr Dodd, who was diagnosed with an asbestos disease in January 1964 after being exposed to the substance while working for Central Asbestos Co Ltd for more than a decade.
However, Mr Dodd was unaware he could claim for compensation and it was only after hearing a colleague doing the same, in 1967, he contacted Thompsons for legal advice.
Prior to the Judgment, the law stated that a person had to bring a claim within three years of being exposed to asbestos – a standard ‘limitation period’ for personal injury law - even though asbestos diseases often take decades to become symptomatic.
The landmark ruling at the House of Lords agreed with Thompsons’ argument that Mr Dodd could not have known that he could begin litigation until he had found out about his colleague’s claim.
This Judgment became the touchstone regarding limitation in asbestos cases and opened the door for all of the asbestos victims who faced the same argument as Mr Dodd and whose claims would have previously been time-barred.
Just last year, Thompsons Solicitors provided evidence to an ongoing Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into the Health and Safety Executive’s approach to asbestos management.
In its response, the social justice law firm argued that repeated cuts made to the HSE budget since 2010 has made it almost impossible for there to be effective monitoring and management asbestos in workplaces.
Mr Hood continued: “Since we worked on the landmark House of Lords case 50 years ago, the asbestos insurance industry has taken every opportunity to try and limit compensation for people who have developed these horrendous diseases. As a firm, we have been involved in every major fight and, step by step, fought back the restrictions the insurers have sought.
“The banning of asbestos in 1999 was a welcome but long overdue step but that doesn’t mean the issues stopped there or that the consequences of asbestos exposure can be dismissed as history. The biggest risk is that asbestos remains unidentified in workplaces, schools, hospitals and other public buildings. Even if it is managed properly, the long-term solution may not, in every case, be to let it remain in situ. The onus is on those responsible to increase their efforts for the proper identification, containment and removal of all asbestos in buildings across the UK.”
Asbestos disease diagnosis? Talk to us for advice and support on how to secure compensation.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, we can support you with advice on how to make a claim.
The process will be explained in plain English and with no obligation – our priority is to provide you with the best, expert advice on whether you have a valid case for compensation, and to signpost you to further sources of support.
There are strict time limits applied to making a claim – usually three years from the date of diagnosis. It doesn’t matter if the exposure to asbestos took place – as it often does – decades ago, the three year time limit applies to the date of knowledge of diagnosis or date of death.
For further information, visit our How to Make A Compensation Claim page.