There is a general rule that an action to claim damages for personal injury must be brought within three years of the claimant becoming aware of his or her injury.
Recently, a man sought damages from his ex-employer on account of chest problems. He had been exposed to asbestos at work and, in the 1980s, had gone to see his GP because he was experiencing chest pains. Although a chest X-ray revealed a thickening of the lining of the lungs (which is now known to be not uncommon where there has been asbestos exposure), this was not thought to be the cause of his symptoms.
He went back to work, retiring some years later when he began having breathing difficulties. Fifteen years after his retirement, he was again referred to the hospital because of chest pains and the opinion then formed was that the pleural thickening was likely to have caused the chest pains he had suffered in the 1980s.
Pleural thickening, although a common precursor to the deadly asbestos-related disease mesothelioma, is of itself not actionable, since it is generally considered to be a symptom-free condition.
The man’s ex-employer argued that he had brought his claim too late, because he first became aware of the condition in the 1980s. However, the judge ruled that the first time he had knowledge that he had a significant injury was in 2008.
The claim was therefore brought in time.