Asbestos & Mesothelioma Inquests

Ashtons Legal is often instructed by families where a loved one has died as a result of an industrial related disease.

We can offer assistance in the preparation for an inquest and legal representation at the inquest itself. Some families can find the inquest procedure daunting and so it may be beneficial to obtain legal assistance and support.

What is an Inquest?

An inquest is a legal investigation held by a Coroner to establish the circumstances surrounding a person’s death, including how, when and why the death occurred. An inquest is usually heard when the cause of death is unclear. When someone has died from a disease that might be related to asbestos, this is classed as an ‘unnatural death’ so an inquest will be needed.

It is not the Coroner’s job to find fault with a person or party.

The Coroner will be concerned with trying to answer the following four questions:

  1. Who has died?
  2. How did the death occur?
  3. When did the death occur?
  4. Where did the person die?

When will an Inquest take place?

Reporting a death

A death is usually reported to the coroner by the medical staff treating the person who has died. This may include hospital staff or a GP. This can also be reported by the police when someone dies at home.

When a death has been reported to the Coroner, the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, must wait for the Coroner’s Inquest to be finished before the death can be registered.

Should you have any concern that the death is related to an asbestos disease, then you must report the death to the Coroner yourself if not already done so.

Post Mortem

In some situations a post mortem of the body might be necessary when the cause of death is not completely clear to establish how exactly the person died.

Lung tissue samples might be taken. In asbestos cases, it is essential to ask the Coroner to arrange for samples to be kept, as they might be vital evidence in a claim for compensation in the civil courts.

Once the post mortem has taken place, interim death certificates are issued and the funeral can then take place.

How to prepare before the Inquest

For families, the idea of attending an inquest can understandably be a daunting experience, so it may be worthwhile considering the following prior to the inquest to make it less stressful on the day:

  • make sure you know where the inquest is taking place and how to get to the venue
  • ask the Coroner’s court if you can attend the court before the inquest itself in order to familiarise yourself with the room, where you will be standing, where the Coroner and witnesses will be
  • is there a family room that you can use during the day on the inquest?
  • learn how to do some simple relaxation exercises to help you during the inquest
  • ensure that your solicitor is fully aware of all the questions you want raised at the inquest prior to the day of the inquest
  • if there is going to be media interest in the inquest, talk to the Ashtons Legal PR and media department about how to prepare.

How to prepare on the day of the Inquest

Take plenty of tissues which are easily accessible. It is also a good idea to bring boiled sweets or mints to suck during the inquest as these aid in helping you feel more relaxed and concentrate on what is being said.

If you have instructed a solicitor, they may want to speak to you and immediate family members before the inquest starts and so you should arrange a time and location to meet them.

If you are called as a witness:

  • you will be taken to the witness box by the usher and you will be asked if you wish to give your evidence on oath swearing on the Bible, another Holy Book or if you wish to affirm that you will tell the truth
  • the Coroner will guide you in how to give your evidence
  • when you have finished the Coroner may ask questions to make things as clear as possible. When answering questions asked by anyone, the answers should be directed to the Coroner.
  • try to speak as loudly as possible so everyone can hear
  • if you become distressed and find it difficult to talk, ask the Coroner if you can take a break before continuing with the evidence
  • no matter what questions you are asked, do not become angry at the questioner – always answer politely.

Listening to evidence:

  • this can be a very distressing experience so if you feel you need to take a break from listening to it, you can slip quietly from your seat and make your way out of court
  • the Coroner may ask if you wish to leave the Court whilst the pathologist is giving their evidence. The pathologist is the doctor that carries out the post mortem and tries to discover what the cause of death is
  • do not get angry in Court, the Coroner may find this inappropriate and ask you to leave the Court.

Procedure of an Inquest

It can take three to four months or longer, depending on the complexity of the matter or Court waiting lists, before an inquest is held.

The Coroner and Coroner’s Officer will collect information and documents and should you have instructed Ashtons Legal to act, as your solicitor we will assist the Coroner by providing this information.

The Coroner’s Officer occasionally would like to speak to the family or close friends as they are often the best people to provide information.

Once all of the necessary information has been collected by the Coroner, it will be decided whether there needs to be a hearing. If no hearing is required, there will be a recording of the cause of death by the Coroner and the final death certificate can be applied for.

There may be a hearing where the family have the right to attend and ask questions. Due to the sensitivity of the nature of the inquest, the Coroner is specially trained and the process is designed to be as least intimidating as possible.

The Coroner will hear evidence from the family of the deceased and there will be an opportunity for the family and/or their legal representative to ask questions of the witnesses and make submissions to the coroner. Usually the deceased’s witness statement and medical report is read out to the Court.

What is the Outcome of an Inquest?

At the end of the inquest, the Coroner will give answers to the four questions:

  • who has died?
  • how did the death occur?
  • when did the death occur?
  • where did the person die?

The Coroner will then provide a verdict on why the person died. The final death certificate is issued.

How can Ashtons help?

Ashtons Legal is often instructed by families where a loved one has died as a result of an industrial related disease.

We can offer assistance in the preparation for an inquest and as legal representation at the inquest itself. Some families can find the inquest procedure daunting and so it may be beneficial to obtain legal assistance.

Ashtons specialist asbestos team are happy to discuss the possibility of bringing an asbestos disease claim posthumously where a loved one has died and are able to assist in making applications for benefits.

If you have any questions about preparation for an inquest or legal representation at the inquest itself, please get in touch with Martyn Hayward on 01223 431112 or Phoebe Osborne on 01223 431159.