The risks associated with smoking have been known for half a century and smokers are assumed to accept those risks willingly. However, smokers may not be aware that their habit could reduce the level of damages awarded should they develop a disease affecting the lungs as a result of exposure to toxic compounds (e.g. asbestos) at work and pursue a personal injury claim.

A recent case illustrates how this may occur. A man who had been a heavy smoker sued his employer for damages after he developed respiratory problems caused by exposure to asbestos.

His compensation award was calculated in the normal way and included a computation of damages for loss of future earnings. However, a reduction of 15 per cent was made to the damages awarded on account of the man’s contributory negligence and the likelihood that his future earnings would have been reduced anyway because of the probability that his smoking habit would have led to a reduction in his earning capacity in the future, even if he had not been exposed to asbestos.