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The importance of seeking early medical and legal advice

by Garret Spring

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Two recently reported cases concerning victims who died as a result of exposure to asbestos highlight the importance of seeking early medical help and legal advice.

The Daily Mail carried the story of a Brighton police officer who died from the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, some 32 years after the Brighton bombing.  He was among the first to arrive on the scene after a bomb exploded in the Grand Hotel Brighton in 1984, sifting through the dust and rubble to find survivors.

Disasters like this demonstrate the huge and widespread use of asbestos in a large range of buildings constructed up to 1999, when the lethal substance was finally banned in the UK.  Sussex police are now sending letters to others who were at the scene including police officers, fireman and probably guests at the hotel and staff who may have been directly exposed to the substance.

It is commendable that the police are publicising this issue - not to cause distress but to inform people so that they can seek advice from their GP and get reassurance.  However, it is also worrying that the police and rescuers were not issued with the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) until some days after the blast.

Other emergency services personnel, including those who treated the victims, may have been secondarily exposed to the deadly asbestos fibres when treating the victims who were covered in rubble and dust.

This tragic case not only illustrates why asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma are so pernicious because symptoms don’t usually present until several decades after the original exposure but also reinforces the importance of seeking medical advice as soon as those symptoms do become apparent.

Many victims, such as Rodney Snare, delay obtaining medical advice after first experiencing symptoms (such as a persistent cough or tightness in the chest) because they have previously been fit and active individuals and the thought that they could be seriously ill may not occur to them.  That may result in a delayed diagnosis and although cancers such as mesothelioma are incurable, other diseases such as asbestosis and pleural thickening can be treated (or at least alleviated) if diagnosed early enough.

Another case reported in the Scunthorpe Telegraph concerning 80-year-old Kenneth Hutson, who died after being exposed to asbestos at the steelworks in the 1970s highlights the importance of seeking legal advice as soon as a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness is made. As a general rule, a person usually has to start a claim within three years of when they knew or ought to have known they were suffering with an illness caused by asbestos exposure.

Mr Hutson was diagnosed in 1993.  The inquest which concluded that the underlying cause of his death was exposure to asbestos did not convene and reach that verdict until June 2016.  If solicitors were not instructed as soon as that diagnosis was made the limitation period would have expired in 1996 and no civil claim would have been possible.  In this case, we can only hope he instructed solicitors back when he was diagnosed, since a compensation claim can not only help to fund palliative care and maintain some quality of life, but can also relieve the anxiety that many victims have about how surviving loved ones will cope financially.

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