Asbestos—causation in personal injury claims

The following PI & Clinical Negligence practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Asbestos—causation in personal injury claims
  • The medical position
  • Pleural plaques, asbestosis and pleural thickening (the divisible conditions)
  • Mesothelioma and lung cancer (the non-divisible conditions)
  • Contributory negligence—lung cancer and smoking
  • The legal position—divisible conditions
  • The legal position—non-divisible conditions
  • Fairchild
  • Barker
  • Section 3 of the Compensation Act 2006
  • More...

Asbestos—causation in personal injury claims

In order to recover damages a claimant in a personal injury claim must establish that the defendant caused or made a material contribution to the accident/contraction of disease. As will be seen below, there is an exception to this rule in one specific area.

This issue is far from straightforward, from both a legal and a medical standpoint.

The medical position

From a medical standpoint, different considerations apply to the various types of disease that can be contracted by reason of exposure to asbestos.

Some conditions are aggravated, or the effects increased, by further exposure to asbestos.

Other conditions, once contracted, are wholly unaffected by continued exposure.

Some conditions can be contracted by a single instance of exposure to asbestos (indeed by the inhalation of a single fibre of asbestos).

The medical differences have led the courts to draw a distinction between what are referred to as divisible and non-divisible conditions. Different tests and rules apply to causation issues depending on whether the condition is classified as divisible or non-divisible.

Returning to the medical analysis, the following is a useful, if somewhat simplistic, summary.

Pleural plaques, asbestosis and pleural thickening (the divisible conditions)

All of these conditions are cumulative in that they are likely to get worse as the total dose of inhaled asbestos increases. That is why they are all considered to be a powerful indicator of significant asbestos

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