Success in pursuing a mesothelioma claim may not always be a simple matter of showing that a victim diagnosed with mesothelioma was exposed to asbestos during their period of employment at a particular workplace. The aim of an asbestosis lawyer is to try and obtain an admission of liability, and if possible, an out-of-court settlemt to speed up the process for the claimant.

However, there can invariably be occasions when the defendant will demand that a victim should prove that it was negligence and lack of duty of care in the workplace conditions, which caused or contributed to the development of the claimant’s fatal asbestos-related disease.

In one recent case, the wife of a carpenter believed to have worked with asbestos materials is convinced that her mesothelioma cancer was the result of secondary exposure to her husband’s asbestos-contaminated overalls.

In past years, it was sometimes necessary to clearly show that the level of asbestos fibres inhaled was above the health and safety guidelines in place at the time of the exposure. Known as the “lung burden”, the rules governing the number of asbestos fibres found in a victim’s lung have come to be seen as unreliable, depending on where the research data was collected and the difference between types of asbestos fibres.

Employers have robustly argued over their liability

Cases which pursue mesothelioma compensation for secondary exposure have also been more difficult simply because the victim was not directly exposed to asbestos at the defendant’s workplace. The problem is further compounded because of the exceptionally long period of up to 50 years or more, which can elapse before the first asbestosis symptoms may appear.

Within the last ten years, “secondary” exposure has been named, alongside “environmental” exposure, as being responsible for the deaths of around 1,200 female mesothelioma victims. Nevertheless, defendant employers have robustly argued over their liability for any negligence, which indirectly led to a ‘secondary exposure’ to asbestos fibres.

The onus is still upon the claimant to provide tangible evidence of a connection between contact with asbestos at a workplace and the claimant’s mesothelioma, asbestosis, or an asbestos-related disease.

In the recent case of secondary exposure, the female claimant, aged just 60, had been married to a carpenter who, it is claimed, had worked with asbestos between 1969 and 1997, but tragically died from a brain tumour in his early forties. However, her deceased husband’s former employer say they will only compensate the victim if witnesses can be found to support the claim that her late husband had worked with asbestos.

She clearly remembers having to vigorously shake out the dust

The wife’s memory of that time, forty years earlier, is still strong. Before washing her husband’s overalls, she clearly remembers having to vigorously shake out the dust, now believed to be asbestos. The dust ended up covering the kitchen floor, which she then had to sweep up. The victim, who has received four courses of chemotherapy is unable to pay for immunotherapy, which could extend the time remaining to her.

It is established in law that the wives, daughter or other family members of mesothelioma victims can succeed in claims against the employer where they are able to show that the employers should have been aware it was foreseeable that theie employees would go home with asbestos on their clothes.

However, the victim is still left with trying to prove that her carpenter husband had actually handled asbestos materials at the employer’s workplace. A call has gone out to former work colleagues to provide their witness accounts of conditions at the time, especially during the 1970s , when Britain’s use of asbestos insulation was at its height.

The widespread absence of asbestos awareness to the long term health dangers meant that often no protection was provided to the employees, and in many workplaces, there was simply no washing / showering facilities. Husbands would return home after each shift, still wearing their workclothes and boots covered in asbestos dust for their wives to clean.

Even a brief or low-level exposure should be considered sufficient

In 1997, a meeting of 19 delegates from eight countries was held in Helsinki, Finland. Their report concluded that “About 80 per cent of mesothelioma patients have had some occupational exposure to asbestos, and therefore a careful occupational and environmental history should be taken. Even a brief or low-level exposure should be considered sufficient for mesothelioma to be designated as occupationally related”.

It was not until May 2011 that HM Government Office for Science stated that “not possible to determine a threshold level”, below which, exposure to white asbestos could be considered safe for human health , which mean changing its classification as a Class 1 cancer-causing agent.