Secondary exposure to asbestos was still a regular occurrence in the 1970s. In a recent tragic case, a west country housewife who regularly shook out and washed her husband’s asbestos-soiled overalls by hand for ten years (between 1962 and 1972) because she was without a washing machine, eventually succumbed to mesothelioma cancer nearly forty years later.

The persistence of little to no asbestos awareness of the deadly long term health risks was still widespread despite increasing medical evidence eventually leading to the first asbestos ban in the mid 1980s.

Common practice…

Up until the 1970s and through the 80s, it was a common practice for workers who were employed in service, manufacturing, engineering and shipbuilding industries where asbestos was used as an insulation or fire retardant to bring their work clothes home to be washed and ironed. Consequently, a spouse or a member of the same family would also be at high risk of contracting mesothelioma or other asbestosis diseases as a result of exposure to the asbestos fibre dust brought home on overalls, boiler suits, work clothes, footwear and even in the hair.

The victim’s husband had been employed by the Southern Electricity Generating Board to repair or dispose of storage heaters, which involved stripping out asbestos insulation linings. Despite having never worked directly with asbestos, his wife’s death from mesothelioma was a result of the lack of protective clothing or equipment provided by his employers and the direct handling of the asbestos-contaminated overalls.

The first signs of asbestosis symptoms of mesothelioma – breathlessness and severe chest pains – emerged nearly 40 years later, followed by the losing of her voice and spending a period of time in a hospice. A £50,000 ‘interim’ payment was awarded to the wife before passing away.

Urgent interim payment…

Where a claimant has unfortunately, a severely limited life expectancy and therefore, it is believed that the claim is particularly urgent, a request may be made in writing for a judge to be immediately nominated to manage the case. If a defendant is unable to show ‘cause’ by a specified date, a standard payment can be made against ‘interim damages’ and (if appropriate) interim costs and additional expenses.

Success at winning a secondary exposure case for mesothelioma compensation depends on demonstrating that an employer should have known it was foreseeable that an employee would leave work to return home with asbestos still on their clothes. An employer could still have possessed prior detailed knowledge of asbestos risk despite minimising knowledge of the potential health dangers.

Foreseeable risk…

Family members who contract asbestos-related disease can succeed in a legal mesothelioma claim against a former employer even when a defendant may claim that a period of time had elapsed before they realised that family members of workers exposed to asbestos were also at risk.

The Health and Safety Executive have previously reported that more than 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed annually in the UK and the number of asbestosis claim cases has more than doubled to over 1,160 in 2010.