Tracing a former employer or their insurers when pursuing a mesothelioma claim, especially after several decades, can be a major challenge.

In a recent case, a 65 years old former labourer who was employed at an insulation packing firm in the early 1960s when he was just sixteen was diagnosed with the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer. The exceptionally long gestation period associated with asbestosis / mesothelioma disease often means that up to 50 years or more can elapse before the first mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms appear from initial exposure.

As so often happens, the original company was no longer in business and the employer’s insurers were unable to be found. However, upon closer examination of the employment record, it was discovered that asbestos exposure actually took place when the labourer had been sent by his employer to work at another company premises for a period of five weeks.

Mesothelioma compensation is normally liable to be paid by the actual employer (or insurer) as it is the employer who has responsibility to ensure duty of care to the employee(s). However, in the present case, a judgement was reached, whereby, legal action was taken against the company occupier of the premises where the labourer was working during the five weeks where exposure to asbestos took place.

Further to an appeal being made, the High Court was “satisfied” that the occupier of the building was responsible for duty of care to those working within the premises. As a result, the claims process was completed within three months and £205,000 in compensation was paid to the mesothelioma victim. It also means that the victim can see financial security has been ensured for not only himself within the remaining time but most importantly, his spouse and close family.

Throughout the period of peak asbestos use in the UK and up until asbestos regulations began the first ban in the mid-1980s, asbestos awareness of the long term health risks was either minimal or simply non-existent. Many industries, such as construction, engineering or manufacturing expected their employees to work with asbestos without any consideration as to whether the breathing in of the fibre dust would cause a health risk and neither masks or protective clothing were issued.

Even though mesothelioma cancer accounts for less than 1 per cent of all cancers diagnosed, it has been estimated that the UK has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state there are at least 4,700 asbestos disease related deaths recorded every year, which could reach over 60,000 by 2050.