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Asbestosis compensation claims

What is asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that is caused by prolonged asbestos exposure.  It is a form of pneumoconiosis, which means it is a disease of the lungs caused by the inhalation of dust.  You may sometimes see it described by this name on benefit forms. You may also hear it described as interstitial pulmonary fibrosis.  There are other non-asbestos related lung conditions that are similar to asbestosis, but are not caused by asbestos exposure, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.  

The Health and Safety Executive states that 430 people died from asbestosis in 2015 and 1175 people were assessed as having asbestosis for state benefits purposes in the same year.

What causes asbestosis?

Asbestosis is caused by asbestos exposure.  When breathed in asbestos fibres can cause scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs and prevent them from working properly.

Unlike some other asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma [link to page], doctors believe that a lot of asbestos exposure over a long period of time is normally needed to cause asbestosis.  If you do not recall having been exposed to asbestos then it is unlikely that you have asbestosis.  It is caused by asbestos exposure many years ago and it often takes 20 years or more for symptoms to come to light. 

What are the symptoms of asbestosis?

The symptoms of asbestosis can include a persistent cough, fatigue (extreme tiredness), wheezing, chest discomfort, loss of appetite, crackles heard in the lung on examination by a doctor and shortness of breath.  The shortness of breath may be more obvious on exertion such as exercise or walking up stairs or an incline.  In some cases there may be swollen finger tips which are known as clubbing.

The level of disability can vary, sometimes it is mild or moderate, but it can sometimes be severe and debilitating.  Sometimes it can force people to give up their job, especially if they carry out manual employment.

The condition may progress slowly or possibly not at all.  The severity of the disease normally depends on the amount and duration of asbestos exposure.  

The outlook for asbestosis sufferers varies considerably depending upon the extent of lung damage and whether the person has any other underlying health problems.  Many people live with the condition for many years.

People with asbestosis are at a higher than normal risk of getting lung cancer, especially if they are or have been a smoker.

Asbestosis sufferers are also at risk of developing mesothelioma and pleural thickening.  These risks can be a major source of anxiety to some individuals with asbestosis and may cause psychological distress.

Is there any treatment for asbestosis?

A diagnosis of asbestosis is usually achieved following various tests, including x-rays and CT scans.  

Unfortunately, the effects of asbestosis cannot be cured or reversed. The treating doctors may arrange for follow up appointments to check that the condition does not progress and sometimes, respiratory physiotherapy may be offered depending on the circumstances.  Oxygen therapy may also be offered and this can help to improve quality of life.  

Can I claim compensation if I have asbestosis?

If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis then you should seek legal advice about your entitlement to compensation.  It is important to instruct a specialist asbestos solicitor who is experienced in acting for asbestos sufferers.  They will be able to advise you whether you have a possible claim.

It may be possible to prove an asbestosis claim where you have been exposed to heavy levels of asbestos exposure at work or to moderate levels of asbestos exposure for a long period of time (often 5-10 years or more, but it can be less).

If the claim is successful you will recover compensation for the impact that the illness has on your lifestyle and the physical effects it causes you.  This is known as damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.  You may also be able to claim compensation for out of pocket expenses, any loss of earnings and for care you might receive if you are unwell and need help.  If you are no longer able to do DIY, gardening and other types of domestic tasks then you can claim for loss of your services.  Compensation levels for asbestosis claims vary considerably depending on the facts of each particular case.

If you have asbestosis then there is a risk that you may develop another type of asbestos disease.  Therefore, you can choose to settle your claim on a provisional basis.  This means that you preserve the right to come back and apply for more compensation if you develop another asbestos related illness. 

There are time limits for bringing claims for personal injuries such as asbestos diseases.  Therefore, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. 

Am I entitled to benefits?

If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis then you may be entitled to state benefits.  Specifically, you are entitled to apply for a weekly payment called Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.  If this is awarded then you might also be entitled to receive a lump sum payment from the government under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979.  It is important to seek advice regarding your potential entitlements.

What if I have pleural plaques?

If you have pleural plaques and you were exposed to asbestos in England or Wales then you will not be entitled to bring a claim.  If you were exposed to asbestos in Scotland or Northern Ireland then you may be entitled to make a claim. 

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