Thu 24 Mar 2022

The Value of a Chest Injury (Industrial Disease - Asbestosis)

Injuries to the chest can be classified into two distinct categories: traumatic injuries and industrial disease. Traumatic injuries are those which are caused by blunt force trauma or penetrating injuries. I have commented on these in a previous article. A more common chest injury is caused a result of industrial disease which describes conditions that are caused as a result of exposure to a harmful substance, such as asbestos.  This will usually have occurred in the course of employment and often impacts on lung function. These types of chest injuries can have a long-lasting and devastating impact on the victim's life, and in many cases can be fatal.

Most industrial diseases are caused as a result of unsafe working conditions.  One of the difficulties in pursuing these types of claims is that in many cases the exposure took place decades before symptoms present. As with any workplace injury, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation. In order to be successful in recovering compensation, someone else must be at fault for your injuries. This may be an individual, a business, or a public body. For instance, if your employer failed to provide you with appropriate personal protective equipment which led to you suffering from a lung-condition, you may be entitled to make a compensation claim against your employer.

Types of Industrial Disease

One of the most common industrial diseases is asbestosis, which can leave those affected at risk of developing other conditions such as pleural disease and mesothelioma.

Asbestosis is a lung condition which is caused by long-term exposure to asbestos, a material once commonly used in insulation and roofing. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is comprised of microscopic fibres that are resistant to heat and electricity, making them excellent insulators.  While it is now widely known that asbestos is harmful, it has only been fully banned in the UK since 1999, with some types previously being banned in 1985. This means that any building built or refurbished before 1999 has the potential to contain asbestos. It has been found that those who worked in the building industry between 1970 and 1990 are particularly at risk of developing asbestosis and other lung related conditions as they are likely to have been exposed to asbestos. During this time, many employers did not provide employees with appropriate equipment to protect them from the harmful fibres. Whilst asbestos itself is not dangerous if left untouched, when it is disturbed it can release dust particles that contain harmful microscopic asbestos fibres. With long-term exposure, these fibres can settle in the lungs and can lead to very serious breathing difficulties. Short-term exposure to high concentrations of asbestos can be equally as harmful. Asbestosis causes inflammation and scarring to the lung tissue. This can cause severe breathing difficulties, as well as tiredness and chest pain.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that primarily affects the lining of organs, most often the lungs. In the lungs, this tissue is known as the pleura. This layer of tissue is as thin as the skin of a balloon and is very delicate. Exposure to asbestos can cause areas of the pleura to thicken. These thickened areas are known as pleural plaques. Serious cases of pleural plaques, whilst not causing further complications, can increase the likelihood of an individual developing mesothelioma. Mesothelioma differs from lung cancer in that it develops in the tissue outside of the lungs, as opposed to lung cancer which develops inside the lung. Exposure to asbestos can cause both types of cancer.

Mesothelioma is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 60, and more often in men than women. This is because the main cause is asbestos fibres, and those typically exposed to this were men working in construction in the 1970s and 1980s. As with asbestosis, mesothelioma causes breathing problems and chest pain. It can also lead to loss of appetite, a persistent cough, and fever. While treatment can help to keep the symptoms under control initially, mesothelioma is often terminal.  Due to the very short onset of symptoms with mesothelioma, there is often only months between diagnosis and death. This means that in many cases, personal injury claims are pursued by family members of those who have suffered from the disease.

What can you claim for?

If you suffer from an industrial disease such as asbestosis, the amount of compensation a Court may award you will depend on the severity of the condition and the impact it has had, and will continue to have, on your life. Some of the factors the Court will look at when assessing the level of compensation are:

  • The degree of pain experienced;
  • The impact of the injury on your everyday life and the long-term impact it will have. This includes the ability to continue to work or take part in hobbies and activities previously enjoyed;
  • Wage loss, both past and future, and whether any services have been required by family and friends;
  • The extent of the treatment required, particularly whether surgery was needed; and
  • Whether there was a pre-existing lung problem and the extent to which this was exacerbated by the accident.

Our experienced personal injury solicitors will be able to quantify these factors and establish how much you are likely to receive in compensation.

What could your claim be worth?

If you have a claim for compensation, how much could you be awarded?

Morton Fraser's Compensation Calculator is a handy guide which can provide you with an indication of the value of your injury. It is based on the Judicial College Guidelines which take account of recent Court decisions and serve as a reference point for lawyers when considering compensation. The recommended awards for chest injuries related to industrial diseases are set out below.

  • For asbestosis and pleural thickening where the level of respiratory disability and lung function impairment (attributable to asbestos) is between 1% and 10%, the Court would likely award between £12,860 and £32,780.
  • More serious cases where the level of disability due to asbestos is greater than 10%, and where this can reduce lung function may be awarded between £32,780 and £90,300. The higher end of the scale is reserved for cases where the condition has progressed and causes more severe breathlessness and impacts on mobility, quality of life, or has reduced life expectancy.
  • Instances of lung cancer caused by asbestosis, but which are not diagnosed as mesothelioma, may be valued between £59,730 and £83,050.
  • For mesothelioma which causes severe pain and impairment to function and quality of life, the court can make awards in the range of £59,730 to £107,410. There are a range of factors which will determine where in this scale an award is made. Such factors are the duration of pain experienced, the extent and effect of invasive procedures, and whether other organs have been affected.

The Court will also take into consideration factors such as age, previous level of health, life expectancy, family circumstances, as well as the level of distress caused by the condition. Particularly in instances of pleural plaques, the Court will consider the level of anxiety caused by this diagnosis and whether the pleural plaques developed into mesothelioma.

Case Study

At Morton Fraser, we have extensive experience in pursuing claims for those who suffer from industrial diseases. In one recent case, we successfully recovered just under £1.2million in compensation for the family of an individual who was exposed to asbestos particles while working as a decorator during the 1970s. The individual was involved in redecorating boiler rooms in a number of public buildings, which involved scraping and cleaning the surface of the boilers and their pipes, which were lagged with asbestos. The dust produced during this work contained asbestos fibres which the individual inhaled large quantities due to the lack of ventilation and absence of personal protective equipment.   As a result of this, almost 45 years later, the individual developed mesothelioma which led to his premature death. Morton Fraser represented the individual's family in a compensation claim against his former employers. In addition to the individual's claim for solatium (i.e., the pain and suffering he experienced as a result of the injury), each of his family members were entitled to claim for the loss of the relationship with their loved one, and his guidance and support.  Family members are entitled to make these claims under the Damages (Scotland) Act 2011.  They were also entitled to claim for the loss of his financial support and services which he would have provided to them, had he not died prematurely.

Who is the claim against?

Who is liable to pay compensation will depend upon the circumstances of the incident and who is to blame for your injuries.  Many industrial diseases are caused as a result of unsafe working conditions. For example, if you were exposed to asbestos while at work, your employer may be liable. Morton Fraser's Personal Injury Team has extensive experience in pursuing all types of claims and we can provide you with advice on who is liable to pay compensation once we have discussed the facts and circumstances of your claim.

What next?

The above guidelines and our Compensation Calculator provide an initial indication of the values a court may award for the 'pain and suffering' you have endured but do not take into account other  losses such as assistance you required following your accident, the cost of medical treatment, past and future wage loss, pension loss and any other expenses you have incurred as a result of the accident. Each individual case must be considered on its own facts and circumstances. Our experienced Personal Injury team will take the time to assess your claim and can help you get the compensation you are entitled to. Contact us today on 0131 247 1000 or through our personal injury compensation enquiry form.

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