Asbestos Victim's Failure to See a Lawyer Almost Stymies His Widow's Claim

If you suspect you are suffering from an industrial disease, any delay in seeking legal advice can have disastrous consequences. In a case on point, a man's failure to contact a solicitor before his death from asbestosis-related pneumonia came within an ace of defeating his widow's compensation claim.

The man received an asbestosis diagnosis more than three years before his death but did not consult a solicitor. After his death, an inquest found that he had died from an industrial disease. His widow finally sought legal advice a month later and proceedings were launched against two companies on the basis that he had been exposed to asbestos whilst working for them in the 1960s.

After the companies argued that the claim had been brought too late, a judge found that the three-year limitation period which applies to such cases had expired before the man's death. The judge, however, exercised his discretion to waive that time limit, thus enabling the widow's claim to proceed to trial.

In dismissing the companies' challenge to that decision, the High Court found that the delay in launching proceedings was excusable in human terms. The man, who also suffered from other health problems, had not at first appreciated the implications of the diagnosis and it had taken time for him to come to terms with it. His and his wife's attention had been taken up by his declining health and eventual death.

The Court noted that the companies' defence to the widow's claim was significantly prejudiced in that both had gone into liquidation and all records of the man's employment had been lost. However, those events had occurred long before the proceedings were lodged and the delay had not materially worsened the companies' position. Although the man was not prompt in seeking legal advice, his widow had acted reasonably in doing so shortly after the inquest verdict.

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