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Specialist Advice Can Help Fight the Asbestos Legacy

The Journal (Newcastle, England), September 26, 2005

Asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related death in the UK. At least 3,500 people in Great Britain die each year from mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer as a result of past exposure to asbestos.

The North-East, with its shipbuilding tradition, suffers more than most areas from this asbestos legacy. Many who were exposed to asbestos are unaware they have rights to claim compensation from their former employers ( even though they may be currently unaware of any physical symptoms.

Richard Allbeson, a partner with Marrons Solicitors, advises those who were exposed in the past to asbestos at work should seek specialist advice as early as possible.

* Legal action

Marrons Solicitors specialises in taking legal action against companies on behalf of former employees who have contracted asbestos-related diseases.

The firm has handled such cases for over 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area.

Mr Allbeson said: "The fact that a former employer may no longer be trading is not a bar to claiming compensation. We have a database of hundreds of companies and their insurance histories.

"We can, therefore, regularly take on cases and succeed when other solicitors and claims companies have given up. It is important that people who worked with asbestos seek advice promptly as companies and their insurers are always looking for new ways to limit or avoid their liabilities."

* Test case

Earlier this year, in a test case involving one of Marrons' clients, the High Court threw out a challenge by insurers to the rights of workers to claim compensation for pleural plaques (scarring of the lungs usually causing no physical symptoms).

But the court did reduce levels of compensation payable for the condition. Before the reduction ordered by the court, Marrons secured a compensation payment for 61-year-old former pipe- fitter Leslie Melaney, of Gosforth.

Marrons had acted for him previously in securing compensation following a back injury that ended his working life and so the firm was his natural choice when, following a routine chest X-ray, he was found to have pleural plaques.

* Claim settled

Mr Melaney first consulted Marrons in November, 2003, and his claim was settled by October, 2004. "I have nothing but good words for my solicitor," he said. "He arranged a speedy medical examination and advised me to reject the initial offer made. My case was concluded two months later without being affected by the test case.

"My main exposure was in shipyards in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I didn't have to use asbestos myself but worked alongside trades who did. I remember working in areas close to where laggers were spraying and mixing asbestos.

"It was like working in a cloud or fog at times. I was never given protective equipment or warned of the dangers."

* Appeal

The pleural plaque test case is being appealed and will be heard by the Court of Appeal this November. Mr Allbeson said: "It is likely, even if the insurers fail in their latest attempt to overturn the law that has stood for the last 20 years, that they will make future attempts to save themselves money.

"Currently the law allows people suffering from pleural plaques to claim an immediate award of compensation (even though they have no physical symptoms) and the right to return for significant damages if they go on to develop a more serious condition.

"Given the widespread use of asbestos, it is not surprising our clients come from a wide range of industries. Not all were exposed themselves. Many were exposed to dust simply by working close to others who were. We also act for wives who were exposed to asbestos through washing their husband's work-clothes and for people who lived close to asbestos insulation factories."

* Epidemic

The UK is facing an epidemic of mesothelioma cancers among workers exposed to asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive in a paper published in December, 2003, estimated the annual number of deaths from mesothelioma (a cancer uniquely associated with asbestos exposure) will peak about 2013 at 2,200 per annum, and by 2050 around 77,000 will have died, with over 55,000 of those occurring from 2002 onwards.

These are sobering figures but, by acting promptly, a secure route to compensation can be mapped out by Marrons.

"Many of our clients diagnosed with asbestos diseases are suffering from acute anxiety as the dangers of having inhaled asbestos dust are now well known," says Mr Allbeson.

By obtaining compensation now for that anxiety and preserving their rights to return for further compensation if a more serious condition develops, he feels some of his clients' understandable concerns can be addressed.

If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, or are concerned about the claims process, contact Marrons Solicitors for free specialist advice on Freephone (0800) 834870. Alternatively, drop in for an informal chat at one of its open sessions on Friday mornings at its office, close to Newcastle Civic Centre.