Over the years we have seen a number of compensation claims for exposure to hazardous substances which can cause injury or serious discomfort. While the majority of hazardous substances compensation claims relate to the workplace, it is also worth noting that hazardous substances are often present in the world around us. There have been claims for soil contamination, weedkiller, pesticides and other substances which have brought on an array of treatable and potentially fatal medical conditions.
Hazardous Substances Exposure In The Workplace
While all employers have a duty of care to their staff and customers, such is the potential danger from exposure to hazardous substances that specific regulations have been brought in by the UK government. These include “The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations Act” (COSHH) which specifically highlights the legal obligations that all employers have with regards to exposure to chemicals and the safety of their employees.
Where possible, all exposure to potentially hazardous substances should be avoided although there will be instances where this is not possible. In these situations an in-depth risk analysis should be carried out, procedures put in place and safety equipment made available. If you have received an injury as a consequence of exposure to hazardous substances as a consequence of negligence by your employer, you may well have a valid hazardous substances claim for compensation.
Hazardous Substances And The Environment
While conditions such as legionnaires’ disease should really be a thing of the past it is still prevalent in the UK. The majority of cases involving legionnaires’ disease occur as a consequence of contaminated air conditioning systems or the drinking of infected water. Even just the tiniest of droplets can have a significant impact upon the health of those who unknowingly inhale the contaminated fluid.
Thankfully, governments over the years have cracked down on the dumping of toxic waste although there are still instances of rivers, streams and lakes becoming contaminated with “unknown substances”. The environment agency is now extremely strict when it comes to toxic waste and if anyone becomes ill as a consequence of this waste material, the perpetrators could be made to pay out significant hazardous substances compensation to victims. It would be fair to say the dumping of toxic waste is “under control” but it is an ongoing battle for the authorities.
Claiming Compensation For Exposure To Hazardous Substances
The guidelines for claiming compensation for injuries received as a consequence of exposure to hazardous substances are fairly straightforward. The claimant must be able to prove:
- The injury was sustained within a three-year period prior to the date of lodging a claim.
- The third party involved, such as an employer, local authority or individual, was negligent.
- A direct link between the injuries and exposure to hazardous material.
The simple fact is that every employer has an obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees. Many people may not be aware but all employers are also legally obliged to take out insurance to cover compensation claims for issues such as injuries as a consequence of exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Examples Of Hazardous Substances
There are many instances of exposure to hazardous substances which bring about injuries or can exacerbate existing medical issues. These include:
- Air pollution
- Contaminated soil
- Carbon monoxide
- Arsenic poisoning
- Legionnaires’ disease
- Lead poisoning
- Pesticide poisoning
- Exposure to PVC
- Radiation sickness
- Inhaling fumes from cleaning materials
It is impossible to list all of the potential instances of exposure to hazardous substances but the above list will give you an idea as to previous claims.
Duty Of Care
Whether an employer, local authority or individual, all employers and those servicing the public have a duty of care to protect employees and members of the public. In relation to the employer’s duty of care this takes in an array of different aspects such as:
- Initial and ongoing training in health and safety.
- Appropriate storage facilities for hazardous substances.
- Helpful signage where hazardous substances are in use.
- Safety equipment must be provided to all personnel.
- Maintaining all equipment is in good working order.
- Matching experienced staff with potentially dangerous tasks.
- Carrying out regular risk assessments.
- Creating procedures for all staff to follow when using hazardous substances.
- Ensuring that adequate medical treatment is available in the event of injury.
The vast majority of cases where compensation is claimed as a consequence of exposure to hazardous substances tend to involve employers failing to maintain their duty of care. In many cases negligence can be fairly obvious but there may well be instances of shared liability which would likely go before the courts for a ruling on the split of negligence/liability.
How To Make A Claim For Hazardous Substances Compensation
In any instance where an injury occurs as a consequence of exposure to hazardous substances, the victim should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. It would depend upon the type of hazardous substance involved but both employees looking to assist with an injury and the medical services should be made aware of the specialist nature of the injury. They may need to use specific equipment/products to reduce the risk of injury to others but this should not be a major problem as all ambulances, hospitals and health facilities should have these.
It is worth noting that while the vast majority of injuries will be visible immediately there will be instances where constant exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos over a prolonged period of time can bring on various medical issues (or exacerbate existing conditions). Again, where an individual suspects there may be potential health issues they should seek treatment as soon as possible and make their employer aware of the situation. While obtaining medical assistance is obviously vital, it also ensures that details of your injuries, the circumstances and treatment received will be noted on your medical records. These can be used in a court of law when pursuing compensation.
In simple terms, the more evidence you can collate to prove negligence on behalf of your employer and/or any other third party, the greater the chances of a successful prosecution. This may include photographic evidence, witness statements, copies of the works accident book (which may show similar injuries in the past) and obviously medical records. In theory a claimant has a three-year window of opportunity in which to make a claim, from the date the injury was linked to your exposure to the hazardous substance, but it is highly advisable to make a claim as soon as possible. The sands of time can often lead to a blurring of the actual incident and reduced clarity which may have an impact upon the eventual outcome.
After collating the evidence and timeline of events, these should be presented to a personal injury solicitor who will be able to advise you of your chances of success. In the event that they deem you have a solid claim for compensation they will in most cases offer a No Win No Fee arrangement which will remove any liability the claimant has to cover the legal costs of the personal injury solicitor. For further details on our No Win No fee agreement please ask us and we’ll be happy to explain. The personal injury solicitor will also agree with their client a “success fee” in the shape of a percentage of compensation received in the event of a successful prosecution.
The vast majority of compensation cases tend to be settled out of court as a means of limiting legal costs for the defendant. In instances where negligence is contested, or there may be more than one party involved, the evidence will be presented to the courts and the judge will make an informed decision.
Compensation For General Damages And Special Damages
In general there are two differing types of compensation available. These are general damages and special damages.
General damages are compensation for:
- The claimants pain and suffering
- Life changing injuries
- Mental trauma
While in theory the level of general damages is open-ended, the courts and insurance companies tend to refer to the compensation guidelines from the Judicial College which publishes historic data relating to specific injuries. This creates a fairly narrow band of compensation for individual injuries and the impact on the victim’s life. There will be some discretion/variation to take into account the specific elements of each case but in theory the level of general damages tends to relate to Judicial College guidance.
The second type of compensation is known as special damages and covers issues such as:
- The claimants loss of earnings
- Future loss of earnings
- Medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Adaptions to the home
- Additional transport costs
There is no real discretion when it comes to special damages because they are simply reimbursement of costs incurred and the funding of costs going forward. In the case of injuries caused by hazardous substances this can in many cases result in significant medical expenses and physiotherapy. The level of future medical expenses will be estimated by experienced medical professionals and presented to the court.
Hazardous substances compensation claims are something our personal injury solicitors are adept in so please call today for expert advice.