Landmark ruling for asbestos compensation

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A ruling by the Court of Appeal has set a baseline for asbestosis compensation claims. Historically, a general lack of awareness among employees working with asbestos products has led to the current high mortality rates and incidences of severe health problems from asbestos-related disease.

When making a compensation claim for asbestosis, the legal profession sometimes use a ‘proportional compensation’ system. This reflects the level of asbestos exposure at various places of work throughout a claimant’s life.

Along with the length of time served with each employer, it helps to determine how much compensation might be awarded to someone exposed to asbestos at work.

With little if any asbestos training available in previous decades, the cumulative effect of breathing in asbestos fibres over a period of time means that for many people, serious respiratory illness has become unavoidable.

A ‘divisible’ disease

Asbestosis is a disease that can be termed ‘divisible.’ This means that it’s possible to segment it into different instances where exposure has occurred – at each workplace, for example.

For this reason, the case heard at the Court of Appeal has been heralded as something of a test case for the minimum limits of compensation payable.

Setting the benchmark for future claims

The recent case involved Mr Albert Carder, a retired electrician who for a short time during his working life was employed at Exeter University. Solicitors dealing with his claim calculated the university was responsible for 2.3% of his asbestosis illness, and put forward a case for proportional compensation at this level.

The original claim had been heard in July 2015 at the High Court, and the judge ruled Mr Carder should receive compensation in this proportion from the university. The university’s insurers, however, appealed against the decision on the grounds that his exposure had been minimal.

No material effect on the illness

A defence was put forward that this level of asbestos exposure made no material difference to Mr Carder’s overall illness. But in his ruling at the Court of Appeal, the Master of the Rolls concluded that the extent to which Mr Carder’s illness had become more serious was “small, albeit not measurable.”

He also commented on the original judgement:

“The judge was right to hold that Mr Carder was slightly worse off as a result of the 2.3% exposure for which the appellant was responsible.”

Although this is only a very small proportion, it is said to set an important benchmark for future claims against negligent employers.

An important ruling for other asbestos victims

The decision has been heralded by many in the legal profession as a landmark ruling – it acknowledges that even the most minimal amount of exposure should be recognised in relation to an employer’s compensation payment.

Asbestos disease lawyer, John Hedley, who worked on behalf of Mr Carder, said:

“This decision is very important and will influence other asbestos cases. Whilst there is a long established principle around minimal contributions to asbestos exposure by employers, this case helps define what minimal actually means.”