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Asbestos and the Coroner

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Families whose loved ones are affected by industrial diseases will often not expect or understand why the Coroner will become involved when their loved one passes away as a result of that illness.

The Coroner is required to investigate the cause of death in a number of specific instances where the cause is not a natural, one of which is if the death has been caused as a result of an industrial disease. This will be recorded on the death certificate.

Recently published government statistics show that Coroners in England and Wales recorded approximately 2,700 deaths in 2016 as being due to industrial disease. Of these, 90% were men and 10% women.

Some of the industrial diseases that will be investigated by Coroners which are asbestos related will be mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer, for which there is not currently a cure, asbestos related lung cancer and asbestosis.

Often of concern to the family is whether there will be a post mortem and delays in arranging a funeral. They may be concerned about the prospect of a formal inquest hearing.

Most Coroners will do their best to reassure families and, sometimes, a post mortem may not be necessary, particularly if it has been possible to reach a clear diagnosis of the illness in life.  
Once the post mortem has taken place (or the decision made not to have one) the Coroner will usually confirm that the funeral can take place, even though the inquest hearing may take place some months later. An interim death certificate will be issued, which may be helpful to the family in accessing bank accounts, etc.

At the inquest, the Coroner’s role will be to ascertain the identity; how, when and where the death occurred as well as the cause of death.

The family and other interested parties are entitled to copies of any post mortem report and other evidence the Coroner may rely on. They may also attend the inquest and question witnesses, or they can allow their legal representative to do so.

Although the Coroner is more concerned with what happened and not who is responsible, a finding of industrial disease can be helpful in a compensation claim which would be pursued against the company or other public body who exposed the person to the asbestos.

Sara Hunt, partner and asbestos specialist at Access Legal Solicitors comments:

‘At a very difficult and upsetting time the Coroner’s involvement is another layer for the family to deal with. We strive to make the process as painless as we can for the family, such as providing witness evidence we have obtained on the case to the Coroner which means the family don’t have to give evidence. We can also represent families at the inquest and ask questions of any witnesses. We will do all we can to help at this devastating time.’

If you or a family member have been affected by asbestos related illness or need representation at an inquest then please contact Sara Hunt – [email protected]

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