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Mesothelioma: Important Decision for Claimants With Low Exposure to Asbestos

Mesothelioma: Important Decision for Claimants With Low Exposure to Asbestos

In March 2011 the Supreme Court delivered a ruling with important implications  for the victims of mesothelioma; particularly for those claimants who were exposed to relatively low levels of asbestos dust.

Mesothelioma is a disease which causes malignant cancer cells to form within the lining of the chest, abdomen, or around the heart.  In the vast majority of cases it is caused by exposure to asbestos dust.  It can be difficult to diagnose and responds poorly to treatment.

The majority of mesothelioma sufferers have been exposed to asbestos dust in the course of their employment.  Occupations commonly affected include insulation engineers, boilermakers, shipbuilders, chemical workers, steelworkers, plumbers, pipefitters.

In the UK, the number of mesothelioma cases has increased since 1990 and is expected to peak by about 2020.  The latency period between first exposure and development of mesothelioma ranges from 20 to 50 years.

It has long been recognised that exposure to very low levels of asbestos dust can sometimes give rise to mesothelioma.  In the cases of Sienkiewicz –v- Greif and Willmore –v- Knowsley the defendants sought to argue that the claimants could only succeed in their claims if they could prove that their occupational exposure to asbestos dust at least doubled their risk of developing the disease over and above the general background environmental exposure to asbestos.

This was rejected by the Supreme Court.  It was confirmed that in order to claim, a claimant need only show that the exposure to asbestos dust in the workplace made a “material contribution” to the risk of developing mesothelioma – even where there is only one employer who exposed the victim to asbestos dust.

The result of this clarification is that more claimants are likely to succeed in claiming compensation for mesothelioma – even where their exposure to asbestos dust is shown to have been relatively low – so long as it is shown that the exposure “made a material contribution” to the risk of mesothelioma developing.