Mesothelioma victim urges Unite members to seek union advice

A retired Unite member, who has developed the fatal asbestos disease, mesothelioma, 20 years after accepting a final settlement for pleural plaques through non-union solicitors, is urging members who have been diagnosed with asbestos disease to contact the union for legal advice or risk losing out.

79-year-old George Johnson, from Sunderland, developed scarring on the lining of his lungs, known as pleural plaques, more than 20 years ago.

Before 2007, compensation was available for pleural plaques until the right was ended by the House of Lords. At the time, George contacted high street solicitors to make a pleural plaques claim and accepted a compensation payment in full and final settlement of all claims for asbestos disease against his former employers.

In 2015, George’s health deteriorated and he visited his GP. Following medical tests, it was confirmed he had developed mesothelioma.

George then contacted Unite Legal Services for advice, who investigated his case. Unfortunately, it was discovered George had settled his pleural plaques claim through high street solicitors for full and final payment. This meant he could not bring a further claim for mesothelioma. Unite Legal Services advised George that if he had taken a provisional damages settlement for pleural plaques it would have guaranteed his right to make a further claim for substantial compensation now that he has been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

George began his career in the early 1950s, where he worked as an apprentice and pipefitter at a shipyard in Wearside. George was tasked with repairing pipework on ships that had come into dock, which involved manually removing asbestos lagging with his hands. His colleagues would mix new lagging nearby, which would cause dust to float freely and settle on his clothes.

He said: “I worked as a plumber all my life, but not once was I warned about the dangers of working with asbestos. When I found out that I had developed pleural plaques, I spoke with colleagues of mine who had the same condition and we all agreed to visit the same solicitors. In hindsight this was a big mistake. Having been a trade union member throughout my working career, I really wish that I had turned to Unite Legal Services instead of using a high street practice.

“I would urge anyone who has been diagnosed with an asbestos disease not to go to high street solicitors, but instead contact Unite straight away so that they can get the advice they need to make the right choices.”

Karen Reay, regional secretary of Unite North East, Yorkshire & Humberside Region, said: “Every year around 2,500 people in the UK are diagnosed with mesothelioma, which can be caused by exposure to asbestos as far back as the 1950s.

“Unite Legal Services will represent any of our members and their families who are diagnosed with asbestos disease, making sure they benefit from free, specialist legal advice, including understanding what their options are when it comes to settling a case for a full and final or provisional compensation.”