Rising numbers of asbestos-related conditions highlight importance of specialist knowledge

Older man looking to camera

Recent figures released by the Scottish Government have confirmed that asbestos-related conditions in Scotland, far from declining in number, have yet to peak while a leading charity in the field has highlighted its concerns that individuals suffering from such conditions may not be fully aware of the legal right to claim compensation.  As previously discussed in this newsletter, legal representatives need to be aware of specific time-bar and other considerations when representing and protecting clients’ interests in this type of case.

Figures released by the Scottish Government show the number of hospital admissions in Scotland for asbestos related conditions has increased by over 32% over the past five years.   The number of deaths recorded as being caused by asbestos related conditions increased in the same period.   The figures were published in response to a Scottish Parliament Written Question from Siobhan McMahon MSP(Labour-Central Scotland).

Disease associated with asbestos exposure represents a potential ticking time bomb, with an increasing number of individuals being diagnosed with asbestos related conditions following exposure to asbestos fibres which may have occurred up to 40 years ago. People exposed to asbestos can suffer from a number of conditions, from pleural plaques, a form of scaring of the lungs which may not develop into anything more serious, to mesothelioma at the other end of the scale, an aggressive and incurable form of lung cancer

Alison Blake, General Manager of Asbestos Action Tayside, fears significant numbers of people suffering from asbestos-related conditions are not accessing the support available to them and their families, or fully aware of their legal rights;

“It is likely the number of those affected by asbestos exposure has yet to peak.  It is accordingly essential that every effort is made to educate the public of the dangers of asbestos exposure, not just in the workplace but also to those who may engage in domestic DIY activities.

“The statistics also appear to suggest that a significant number of individuals receiving treatment for asbestos related conditions may not be accessing the wider support services available. 

“Of particular concern is that there may be a number of people diagnosed with pleural plaques who, because they do not experience any obvious incapacity, do not access the wider support services available, including legal services. These individuals are therefore not made aware of their rights to pursue a legal claim in Scotland, or the fact that if they fail to do so within 3 years of diagnosis, they may be subsequently time barred and prevented from pursuing a legal remedy, even if a more serious asbestos related condition is diagnosed.”

We’ve previously discussed the specific requirements and obligations which need to be considered when practising in this area of personal injury claims.

Pleural plaques are a form of scarring or calcified thickened areas on the membrane surrounding the lungs (pleura). They are generally symptomless and do not become malignant. However, pleural plaques indicate that a person has been exposed to asbestos in their lifetime. Pleural plaques tend to form at least 20 years after exposure to asbestos.

If an individual is diagnosed with pleural plaques, they at a higher risk than the rest of the general population of developing an asbestos-related condition such as asbestosis or mesothelioma. Therefore, as well as seeking compensation, you may want to ensure that you protect a potential future claim on behalf you or your family, should you develop another asbestos condition. The risks of this are small, often less than 5%, but the awards in such cases can be much higher, depending on the circumstances.

To protect any potential future asbestos claims, it is imperative that a claim for pleural plaques is brought within 3 years of the date you became aware that you have an asbestos condition. This is normally the date you are first diagnosed.

As the law stands at present, if a claim is not brought within 3 years, individuals will be time-barred from bringing a pleural plaques claim or any future asbestos-related claims, no matter how serious. There is only one 3 year period from the first asbestos-related diagnosis in which to act.