Blog written by solicitor in the asbestos team, Lauren Bull.
The new Gendered Experience of Mesothelioma Study (GEMS) has just been released (December 2020). The study was undertaken by Mesothelioma UK in conjunction with the University of Sheffield to establish the different experiences of men and women following their diagnosis with mesothelioma.
This particular study focused on the differences between men and women in relation to time from symptom onset to diagnosis, seeking legal advice, receiving compensation and occupational risk.
The study has analysed data collected between January 2016 and December 2018 by HASAG Asbestos Disease Support.
The study showed that it takes longer for women to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than it does for men. It also found that the risk of developing mesothelioma for women was more likely to be via indirect exposure, rather than handling asbestos directly themselves.
In my role as a specialist asbestos solicitor, it was interesting to note the findings relating to those who seek legal advice.
Firstly, the study found that women are less likely to seek legal advice than men. When patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma, they are often asked by their treating doctors and nurses if they know where they were exposed to asbestos. For the majority of men, this is a fairly straightforward question. They generally have an awareness of what asbestos is and can pinpoint a time at which they recall asbestos in the workplace, whether this is because they handled it directly or whether this is because it was present in a building they worked in.
For women, this question can be much harder. Sometimes, women have no knowledge of asbestos or its dangers, simply because they have never encountered it. Stereotypically, most women did not work in the heavy industrial environments that their male counterparts did, meaning a lot of women struggle to recall coming into contact with asbestos directly.
For those women who cannot recall being exposed to asbestos when asked, they can then feel reluctant to make a claim. They may feel that they are not entitled to do so, or that it will be a waste of time as they will not be eligible to receive compensation.
If a women cannot recall any direct asbestos exposure, it is so important to enquire at the point of diagnosis about the environments they have worked in, and also what the patient’s family members and partner did for a living. This information becomes even more crucial for claims where the sufferer has sadly passed away before they have been able to seek legal advice, as this evidence can form the basis of what might otherwise be a very difficult a claim.
Hugh James solicitors have succeeded in bringing many successful claims on behalf of people who were unsure where they were exposed to asbestos when they initially spoke to us. It is our job to assist sufferers in establishing how and where they might have been exposed to asbestos.
Even if a sufferer cannot recall where they were exposed, they should always be encouraged to seek legal advice. The compensation that we may be able to secure for them can be invaluable in terms of care costs and private treatment and providing financial security for their family.
Secondly, the study found that if women do seek legal advice, it will take longer for them to receive compensation than male sufferers. As discussed above, this can be the case as it can take longer to establish exactly where a female mesothelioma sufferer was exposed to asbestos. Generally this means that the investigative process at the outset of the claim can take longer that it would in, say, a straightforward claim for a gentleman who worked as a carpenter and cut up asbestos sheets every day for five years.
For claims where women were exposed to asbestos in a potentially contaminated work environment it can take time to gather the relevant evidence, which usually consists of supportive witness evidence from former colleagues and asbestos surveys and documents held by the defendant itself. We often find that defendants are more likely to dispute these low level-exposure cases on the basis of foreseeability of injury and/or breach of duty.
Further complications can arise when a woman was exposed to asbestos via the overalls of a family member. In the instance where the family member is no longer alive, this can make obtaining witness evidence very difficult and time must be spent locating former colleagues of the deceased. Further, in instances where the exposure is secondary exposure via someone else’s work clothes, the sufferer is not protected under Employers’ Liability Insurance as they would be with exposure suffered in their own workplace. It can sometimes take longer to establish a viable defendant in these cases.
Thirdly, the study showed that women are less likely to receive compensation than men. For the reasons set out above, this can be the case in the sense that these claims are often much more complex and difficult to prove. Sadly in some instances, the evidence to support the case is simply not strong enough to bring a successful claim. Nevertheless, the specialist asbestos team at Hugh James have been able to gain compensation for those suffering with mesothelioma in even the most complex cases, and we do everything we can to ensure that those suffering with mesothelioma are rightfully compensated.
At Hugh James, we feel very passionately that anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma should be directed to a specialist solicitor for advice, even if they cannot confirm how they were exposed to asbestos in the first instance. Everyone is entitled to have someone investigate a claim on their behalf and should be encouraged to seek that help, as the potential compensation can be truly invaluable for both the sufferer and their family.
You can access the article here.