By WILLIAM TELFORD Business Editor, The Herald.
The number of claims resulting from asbestos-related illnesses has yet to peak, says a Plymouth law firm specialising in handling such cases.
Wolferstans Solicitors has a team of lawyers working on the industrial disease claims, which can lead to compensation of up to £200,000 being paid.
James Walsh, a partner who heads the team, said Plymouth is a “hot spot” for claims, due to so many workers having been exposed to asbestos in Devonport dockyard.
“It hasn’t peaked yet,” he said.
John Messham, an associate in the team, said: “The figures suggest it will peak in 2020. Cases are coming out of the woodwork.”
Mr Walsh has been working on cases since 1996 and said compensation for someone suffering asbestos-caused mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer, could be up to £200,000, for instance if the person has left dependents.
But damages and compensation vary, depending on factors such as the age of the sufferer.
“We settled one case for over £350,000,” Mr Walsh said.
Mr Walsh and Mr Messham are part of a team that also includes solicitor Dean Cruickshanks, litigation assistant Alexandra Nicholas and litigation assistant Kathryn Lewis.
“We’re kept busy dealing with asbestos cases,” Mr Walsh said. “Seventy-five per cent of our clients are from the Plymouth and Cornwall region.
“At any time we have 100 cases on our books.”
He said one Wolferstans free Saturday advice clinic attracted 30 people.
“In 2008-12 there were 296 mesothelioma deaths reported in Devon and Cornwall,” he said. “That could be the same for asbestos-related lung cancer.”
It comes as The Herald has been highlighting the issue of asbestos-related illness in recent weeks.
The substance, which has insulation and fire- retardant properties, was used extensively in industry and construction.
It wasn’t banned in the UK until 1986, by which time it was revealed as the cause of a range of illnesses.
Wolferstans says asbestos is the single biggest cause of work-related deaths in UK, responsible for 4,000 fatalities each year, of which more than half are caused by mesothelioma.
Mr Walsh said the “primary cases” are people who were exposed at work during the 1950s to 1980s.
“There’s a latency period,” he said. “It takes a minimum of 10 years, but could be up to 50 years after exposure for symptoms to develop. We are dealing with people in their 60s and 70s.”
He said “secondary” cases are where people come into contact with asbestos via another person, for example Plymouth’s Debbie Brewer, who died last year, believed to have been exposed to the substance when hugging her dockyard-worker father.
“There are plenty of cases where the person does not even know they have been exposed,” Mr Walsh said.
The new Mesothelioma Act 2014 creates a
Government- and insurer-backed fund of last resort for mesothelioma cases only, where diagnosis is on or after July 25, 2012.
Mr Walsh said it will help sufferers who are unable to locate the employer or their insurers, possibly because the firm is no longer in existence.
But they still need to prove they were exposed.
Mr Walsh said it is also possible people may have been exposed to asbestos used in buildings, such as schools, if it had been “disturbed”.
“There were a lot of council buildings in Plymouth with asbestos in their roofs,” he said.