Asbestos exposure has blighted many thousands of lives and those affected are routinely awarded substantial compensation. However, as one High Court case showed, timing is vital in such cases and any delay in seeking legal advice can seriously undermine otherwise viable claims.
The case concerned a retired carpenter, aged 81, who was suffering from a 30 per cent respiratory disability arising from asbestosis and pleural thickening. His life expectancy had been shortened and he was at risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer. There was little doubt that his condition arose from asbestos exposure and proceedings were launched against three building companies he claimed to have worked for in the 1970s.
By operation of the Limitation Act 1980, the man's claim had to be filed within three years of the date on which he realised that he had suffered a significant injury. For various reasons, however, he had not lodged proceedings until five and a half years after that deadline expired. His only recourse, therefore, was to ask the Court to exercise its discretion to disapply the time limit and permit his case to proceed.
In dismissing his claim, however, the Court noted that the passage of so many years meant that the companies would face a serious challenge in defending the claim. In giving confusing instructions to solicitors, the man was in part responsible for the delay. He had also inexplicably destroyed all his work records from the relevant time and his memory of events so long ago had faded with age. In the circumstances, the Court found that it would be inequitable and unfair for the claim to proceed to trial.