2024-06-15 18:39

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Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group Legal Conference Report

Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool - 7th June 2024

CWU's Derek Maylor, Ex- Chair of the NW BT Unions H&S Co-ordinators Committee, and now trustee of MAVSG, reports on a major legal Conference held annually in Liverpool:

image: Peter Cowan, CounselPeter Cowan, Counsel, opened the conference in his usual friendly manner, setting the tone for the day's event. Sadly, the tide of the diseases caused by asbestos does not yet to be seen to be turning, bringing more devastating news to individuals and to whole families. Peter announced his forthcoming summer retirement, but we hope not, his involvement in these asbestos law conferences.

image: Jo Seary, Senior Employment Rights SolicitorJo Seery, Senior Employment Rights Solicitor, talked about why it is important to understand employment status and difficulties with the long asbestos latency period of 30/40 years.

Jo went through the issues such as self-employed status, zero hour contracts; the differences between a contract of services versus a contract for a service, frequently many who suffer asbestos related diseases worked for companies that may have been dissolved. She noted that a contract does not have to be in writing and can change or be updated, but VAT registration is a good indicator of self-employment.

Some contract law still uses terms such as the master and servant relationship, which is about the degree of control the master has over the performance of the servant. However, even though the courts do not want a mere checklist approach, it can be the most constructive way of establishing employment status, where an employer engages a worker for their relevant skills and still has control over spending and a work budget.

With casual and seasonal work there can be an expectancy to “come back next summer” which implies that there is a “mutuality of obligation”. Other relevant factors include the degree of financial risk, sick/holiday pay, provision of tools/equipment and so on. In response to a question, Jo noted that it is always better to be part of a trade union.

image: Dr Philip Barber, Consultant Respiratory PhysicianDr Philip Barber, Consultant Respiratory Physician, gave the delegates a pleural update opening by placing asbestos deaths in relation to others, such as smoking, alcohol abuse and suicide etc.

The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council posted a position paper in June 2009 which found that exceptionally heavy plaque may cause a slight loss of lung capacity, which is useful to know in cases where there is a hybrid or joint occurrence and in which plaque does not appear to make a contribution. Diffuse pleural thickening is a well-defined clinical entity but continues to present difficulties in the medico-legal setting.

The UK continues to have the highest prevalence of mesothelioma cases in the world, around 2700 people diagnosed with the cancer every year. Dosage issues have focused in recent years on potential exposure in non-industrial environments where is nevertheless epidemiological evidence of increased incidents, such as schools or localities close to factories. There have been promising strides in clinical trials and Dr Barber closed noting that clinical trials evidenced 8% more people surviving after three years and 13% more showed disease stabilisation in the same time period. 

image: Maria Guerin, Quality Matron Aintree HospitalMaria Guerin is the Quality Matron at University Hospital Aintree who addressed how to talk about death & dying – where we only have one chance to get it right. Under the circumstances communications are difficult, and whilst not saying anyone is getting it wrong, but we can always do better, reiterating, always.

SWAN is an end of life and bereavement care model used at the hospital, it was developed and implemented at Salford Foundation Trust in 2012 and it helps increase in patient support by developing an appropriate end of life care plan, good communication with patients and their families, with personalised care. SWAN was chosen for several reasons, as long ago as ancient Greece where it was a sign for a “good death”, the overall aim is to promote dignity, respect and compassion.

There are difficult but vital, discreet conversations to be had such as between living as long as possible and living as comfortable as possible, realistic hopes but tender conversations.         

image: Master EastmanMaster Eastman talked about current practice issues in the Asbestos List. Master Eastman was appointed a full time master in of the Queen's Bench Division in 2009, 31 years after his Call to the Bar.

Consequently, he has a wealth of experience in the asbestos disease litigation and is able to speak authoritatively about the operation of the Asbestos List. A fascinating and insightful talk by Master Eastman discussed legal issues in depth.

The number of cases that get to litigation are going down but there can be several reasons for this, one possibly being that some are settling without court proceedings being issued.

umage: Andrea Crichton, Senior Claims ManagerAndrea Crichton, Senior Claims Manager, spoke about the T&N Asbestos Trust and advised how to apply for compensation to those who have developed asbestos related diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos by a T&N company.

Andrea ran delegates through the varied paperwork, with examples of best practice and suitability for the different types of claim. A case for an individual has to be built, there is a “Proof of Claim” form that must be adhered to by all claimants. She showed delegates, what needed to be filled in for which specific claim and, just as importantly, what didn't need to be completed, with copies of all the relevant papers.

Explaining how to get radiological evidence by a qualified doctor, where to obtain credible evidence of asbestos exposure from closed companies. The presentation will have been of immense value to all those attending should they need to take up and process such a claim.

Ivan Bowley, Counsel, discussed difficulties with low exposure claims which will be of value for those of us considering asbestos cement water pipes in the UK and around the world.

There are several legal cases regarding causation and exposure, and discussed what would constitute a material increase in risk. No doubt confusing to a lay person but there can be conflicting definitions of risk, between a doctor/medical practitioner who may see it different to a legal practitioner in the court and in law, they apply different tests.

Worth considering is peak exposure as causation not necessarily a low dosage over a lengthy period, i.e. counting the exposure to fibres over a ten year period would be different to counting them over one month of intense exposure period within that ten year period.

Peter Cowan concluded with a summary of the day which had been varied in content, interesting and informative but also enjoyable.

MAVSG thanked all speakers, who had travelled varying distance and very kindly gave their time to speak free of charge.

Source: Derek Maylor, MAVSG / Chris Ingram, unionsafety (photos)

See also: Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group Host Unique Annual Legal Conference

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