It can be sometimes mistakenly assumed that pursuing an asbestosis claim for asbestosis disease may not produce as positive an outcome as an action to claim mesothelioma compensation. While there is a difference between the two conditions, the courts will, nevertheless, take into account the same factors, such as ‘foreseeable’ employer negligence, contributory exposures at different workplaces to the level of disability, and future treatments and care of the victim.
In one recent case, a former maintenance worker was awarded damages after receiving a confirmed diagnosis of asbestosis and pleural thickening as a result of ten years of exposures to asbestos at a number of different workplaces.
Both asbestosis and mesothelioma can develop from exposure and the inhaling of asbestos fibre dust particles. However, asbestosis results in a scarring of the lung tissue itself, caused by fibres embedded in the air sacs while mesothelioma is a cancer caused by fibres lodged in the lung linings.
Asbestosis is a chronic respiratory disease very similar to pulmonary fibrosis, which causes a stiffening of the lungs over time and a progressive restriction to the victim’s breathing. While asbestosis is not a cancer, the condition is known to increase the likelihood of lung cancer or even mesothelioma developing in the future. By contrast, mesothelioma is a fatal, incurable cancer, which, invariably, means a significantly reduced life expectancy for the victim.
Pipework lagged with insulation made from asbestos fibres
In the case of the maintenance worker diagnosed with asbestosis, the court heard that throughout the 1960s, the claimant was exposed to asbestos in many different workplaces but always in a similar way. The fitter was responsible for the repair, maintenance and replacement of heating systems where the boilers and pipework were lagged with insulation made from a mix of cement plaster and asbestos fibres.
The task involved the removal by hand of the worn asbestos which, as result of the disturbance, caused a significant amounts of airborne fibre dust and fallen waste fragments to litter the floor. Throughout the day, the claimant was also involved in sweeping up the piles of asbestos debris as he worked. It was impossible to avoid breathing in the fibre dust particles, and as a consequence, the sustained and regular levels of exposure contributed to the development of the victim’s asbestosis.
The period of exposures occurred during the height of asbestos use throughout British industry as a readily available source of low cost insulation and fire proofing. The clear link to lung related disease saw asbestos use start to decline from the late 1970s, and the first ban introduced in the mid 1980s. But for most of this period, employers often neglected to protect their workforce or warn about the potential dangers.
During the hearing, evidence was produced, which confirmed that the claimant had also been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening – a fibrosis and scarring of the outer lining of the lung. While the condition is non-malignant, it is almost always a positive indication of exposure to asbestos, and is present in patients with asbestos-related diseases. In an estimated one in four of pleural thickening cases, the level of disability caused by a worsening of the condition will increase, on and off, in the first ten years after diagnosis. There is also still the potential to develop mesothelioma or asbestos related lung cancer.
Provisional damages allows for a future additional claim to be made
Asbestosis disease is generally accepted as “potentially progressive” and compensation can now be substantial if there is more than a ten per cent disability causing increased breathing problems. There is however, an option for a victim to settle their claim on a ‘full and final’ basis or accept ‘provisional’ damages. In a standard civil action for “full and final” damages, only one claim is ever allowed to be entered, and payment is significantly less than the award for damages if a more serious or malignant asbestos disease later develops.
The maintenance worker’s claim was settled on a ‘provisional basis’, which allows for a future additional claim to be made if the condition leads to the development of asbestos-related mesothelioma, lung cancer or a worsening of the pleural thickening and ability to breathe.
Asbestosis is also known to contribute to cardiac problems because the lungs and heart work together. High blood pressure and heart disease are not unusual in patients with asbestosis, and heart problems can also be an indicator of asbestosis.