MTBE exposure compensation claims

Updated: October 8, 2018

Introduction

Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) is a flammable, colourless liquid that is added to petrol to help reduce the amount of carbon monoxide emissions. It is also used medically, in the treatment of gallstones. Exposure to small doses of the chemical appears to pose no risk to human health.

At certain concentrations, however, MTBE is believed to have a poisonous effect on the body. Laboratory tests on rats have linked exposure to the chemical to cancerous tumours and leukaemia.

Anyone who has fallen ill after ingesting or inhaling MTBE may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

Chemical worker
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What are the problems with MTBE?

Despite lowering harmful fuel emissions, MTBE has some properties that can cause problems. It is much more soluble in water than other components of petrol, which means that it is much more likely to contaminate the water supply if it is spilled or if it leaks out of underground storage tanks. Once spilled, MTBE does not biodegrade easily, so it is very difficult to clean up.

Ingesting, inhaling or handling MTBE can cause various symptoms, including:

  • Skin irritation
  • Eye irritation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Breathing difficulties.

Laboratory studies conducted on animals suggest that exposure to MTBE at high doses over a long period may cause tumours of the kidneys, liver and some other organs. However, the levels of MTBE used in these studies were generally far higher than humans would normally experience in a typical work accident or spillage.

As an initial step, a simple medical examination is necessary to establish the extent of the MTBE exposure and the long-term effect this might have on the Claimant's life. The medical report is used as basis for negotiating the settlement award.

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Who is at risk of MTBE poisoning?

The majority of MTBE poisoning cases occur in workers who routinely handle the chemical and who have not been issued with the proper protective equipment. As such, MTBE poisoning claims usually fall within the category of hazardous substances compensation claims against an employer.

However, MTBE exposure can also occur in other ways. In the worst reported incident in the UK, MTBE was mass ingested by members of the public after a spillage at an air base in East Anglia contaminated local water supplies. Where a spillage is responsible for the MTBE exposure, the company responsible for transporting the fuel will be liable.

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Do I have a MTBE exposure claim?

Employers who handle hazardous substances are required by law to follow the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, known as COSHH.

COSHH places legal obligations on employers to control exposure to hazardous substances with a view to minimising the risk. In short, they must:

  • Identify hazardous substances used in the course of work
  • Assess the risk associated with handling or using the hazardous substance
  • Eliminate each significant risk or reduce it to insignificant levels
  • Implement safety precautions for the remaining risks, for example, by issuing personal protective clothing and equipment or improving ventilation systems for workers exposed to dangerous fumes
  • Train employees in the proper use of safety measures.

If an employer has failed in their duty to protect staff from MTBE exposure, they may be liable.

Where the MTBE exposure affects members of the public, the injury lawyer will gather evidence to show that:

  • Another entity (e.g. the company that was responsible for storing, transporting or disposing of the MTBE) was legally responsible for the accident
  • The Claimant's injuries were sustained as a result of the exposure.

Once a link is established, the injury lawyer can begin to build a compelling case to achieve the maximum amount of compensation for the injuries that have been sustained.

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No Win, No Fee MTBE exposure claims explained

A MTBE exposure No Win, No Fee claim gets underway with the injured person agreeing to, with their preferred solicitor, a Conditional Fee Agreement (also known as a CFA).

The agreement explains the service your solicitor delivers, and importantly, a success fee that will be deducted from your compensation after your injury lawyer wins your case.

You have no hidden fees when working with a Quittance solicitor. You are able to focus on your recovery, with the knowledge that there will be nothing whatsoever to pay up front.

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How much compensation can I claim for MTBE exposure?

The amount of compensation you will receive depends on a number of factors. Our personal injury compensation calculator provides an accurate estimate of your likely compensation.

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Meet the team

The national panel of QLS solicitors take on all types of industrial disease claims, from fast track claims to serious, long-term injury. Chosen on the basis of their success rate in winning claims, Quittance's panel solicitors have years of dedicated experience.

Meet more of the QLS team: click here.

Kevin Walker Serious Injury Panel Solicitor
Tim Fieldhouse Industrial Disease Panel Solicitor
Shahida Chaudery Complex Injury Claims Panel Solicitor
Jonathan Speight, Senior litigator

About the author

Jonathan has over 30 years' experience in the personal injury sector and has been awarded the rank of Senior Litigator by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).

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