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What is secondary exposure to asbestos and can I bring a claim?

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Secondary exposure to asbestos is when someone who does not typically come in to contact with the substance is exposed through the transference of the asbestos fibres. Catriona Ralls, mesothelioma specialist within our Personal Injury, here explains more about secondary exposure to asbestos and whether you can bring a claim for compensation if you develop this life threatening illness.

Secondary exposure, colloquially known as “dad’s overalls”, generally occurs when an employee who works around asbestos brings home work clothing that is contaminated, which a family member then launders.  

What is mesothelioma?

There are four types of mesothelioma:

  • Pleural
  • Peritoneal
  • Pericardial
  • Testicular

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type, with around 90% of all mesothelioma cases being diagnosed as such. Mesothelioma can be hard to diagnose as many of the symptoms are similar to other illnesses.  If you have been exposed to asbestos before and experience any of the following symptoms, it is important to consult your GP as soon as possible:

  • Fever
  • Coughing and shortness of brief
  • Pain in your lower back or side of your chest
  • Complications in your throat
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

Can I bring a claim for mesothelioma due to secondary exposure?

There have, unfortunately, been a number of cases in which a family member of an individual who worked around or with asbestos has contracted mesothelioma years after the initial exposure.

Carey v Vauxhall Motors Limited is one such case.  In this case, Mr Carey worked as a maintenance electrician in the Vauxhall/Bedford Trucks Dunstable plant in the 1970s where he regularly came in to contact with asbestos while stripping it from pipework.  

Mr Carey would wear overalls while carrying out his work that he would sometimes bring home.  His wife, Mrs Carey, who he married in 1976, would then wash these overalls, disturbing the fibres and subsequently inhaling them.

In late 2017, Mrs Carey was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  Having not come into contact with asbestos in her work, it was ascertained that it was Mr Carey’s role at Vauxhall that was the source.

Mr and Mrs Carey began their claim against Vauxhall following Mrs Carey’s diagnosis, hoping to get funds to help with her treatment, but sadly, she passed away a few days prior to the trial taking place. Her Honour Judge Karen Walden-Smith ruled in favour of Mr Carey and rejected Vauxhall’s claims that the levels of asbestos he was exposed to were no more than de minimis.  Mr Carey could receive £1 million in compensation but, understandably, he described the win as “bittersweet”.

How we can help following diagnosis?

Catriona and her colleague, Deborah Foundling, are experts within our Personal Injury team who specialise in helping people gain compensation for the following industrial diseases with compassion, understanding and respect:

  • Lung cancer,
  • Non-malignant lung and pleural disorders, including:
    • asbestosis,
    • pleural thickening,
    • pleural effusions.

Speaking of the case of Mrs Carey, Catriona commented, “This is such a sad case of a husband losing his wife due to his employment, and demonstrates the harsh nature of this illness.  Unfortunately, there is no cure for mesothelioma and, as the symptoms can take so long to show themselves, very often leaves little time following the diagnosis.  The case shows the importance of seeking legal advice once you receive a diagnosis.  We understand that this will be an incredibly emotional time for you and your family, however by coming to us we can not only assist with claiming compensation to assist with the financial stresses, but we can also connect you with other professionals who can help with counselling, medical assessments and so much more.”

If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, or you have been diagnosed, contact Catriona or a member of the team on 0800 91 92 30 or email  Alternatively, find out more about the symptoms and the process of making a claim here.


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.