Victims of exposure to asbestos may also suffer from lung problems resulting from other causes. During an asbestosis claim, a victim is required to show evidence of the proportion of disability caused by asbestosis disease or asbestos-related pleural plaques. The picture can become more complicated if the claimant was also exposed to other potentially debilitating dusts and / or if they were also a smoker. The level of compensation will be decided upon a number of contributory factors.

It’s not unusual for victims to either not know or fully recognise that the onset of breathing difficulties may be due to an original exposure to asbestos up to 30 or 40 years earlier. The first asbestosis symptoms can be rather non-specific (shortness of breath, chest pain and weight loss). Elderly victims can all too easily be confused and believe they are suffering from a common ailment, such as influenza, bronchitis or another respiratory disease, which may result in further delays in seeking medical advice. Even an asbestos awareness as to the potential cause of a condition may not provide an adequate response.

In one recent case, a retired power station worker in his late 60s, who started to suffer from breathlessness was simply awarded a 10 per cent payment for an initial diagnosis of diffuse pleural thickening – the non-malignant scarring of the outer lung lining. However, the victim now decided to pursue a civil case for compensation.

Thorough medical scans and expert diagnosis

A claim for this type of asbestos-related condition now presents fewer difficulties in reaching a successful outcome in court. Over time, it has become more accepted that pleural thickening is potentially progressive. Previously, claimants were only considered to be at an increased risk of developing an asbestos-related disease as a “direct result of their exposure to asbestos” rather than because of the existence of asbestosis symptoms, themselves.

Nevertheless, the courts will need to see the results of thorough medical scans and expert diagnosis, as well as a precise account of the victim’s employment history. Experienced, specialist asbestosis lawyers know that to succeed in an asbestosis or mesothelioma claim, it is essential to arrange for the most highly-detailed analysis possible to present as evidence in court. In some cases, a condition such as pleural thickening may not be detected by X-ray examination and a high resolution CT scan will be required.

In the present example, further in-depth scans and lung function tests revealed a true picture of the former power worker’s health.

Secure against the possibility of condition deteriorating

Over eight years of working at two power stations at the peak of Britain’s industrial use of asbestos during the 1970s and 80s, the claimant had been exposed to both asbestos and coal dust. Power stations, such as those built at Battersea, Didcot Ferrybridge, Eggborough, Drax and Aberthaw were almost certain to contain asbestos-containing materials(ACMs) used to line walls, wires, pipes, boilers, generators and other machinery. The electrical wiring and conduits were insulated with blue “crocidolite asbestos”, selected for being specifically non-reactive and highly resistant to electrical current.

Expert medical diagnosis showed that the claimant was now 20 per cent disabled, of which, 5 per cent was caused by asbestos-related pleural thickening. A five figure provisional damages settlement was agreed to be paid to the victim, helping to secure his future against the possibility of the condition deteriorating.

Relatively low level exposure to asbestos

Despite being considered a relatively benign condition, over a period of time more serious symptoms may develop resulting in asbestos-related lung cancer. 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 an initial confirmed diagnosis.

Unfortunately, cases of pleural thickening are increasing every year. The condition is known to develop after a victim has received a relatively low level exposure to asbestos, and many more could be at risk of suffering from the debilitating loss of lung elasticity. There were 370 new cases of pleural thickening assessed for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit in 2016 (Health and Safety Executive, November 2017) – a rise of 9 per cent on the annual average of 340, and nearly 2.5 times the 150 cases diagnosed in 1991.