Lawyers Urge Government Not To Agree ‘Second Rate Solution’ For Asbestos Victims

Second Reading Of Mesothelioma Bill Takes Place Monday 2nd December


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Specialist lawyers are urging the government to ensure that thousands of families whose lives are torn apart because of terminal illness caused by exposure to asbestos are not given a ‘second rate solution’ as the Mesothelioma Bill goes through a second reading in the House of Commons on Monday (2 December).

Experts at law firm Irwin Mitchell, who have represented thousands of asbestos victims over the past 30 years, say that around 5,000 people develop an asbestos-related cancer each year, including mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer.
The government’s proposed Mesothelioma Bill outlines a new scheme to provide payments to those who cannot trace their former employer’s insurer, but lawyers and victims today expressed their concerns that thousands of sufferers will be denied full justice due to the technicalities of the scheme.
Lawyers and victims are disappointed that the settlements under the scheme are to be limited to victims of mesothelioma only, and are intended to be 25 per cent lower than the current average compensation for people suffering from the asbestos-related cancer. Irwin Mitchell research suggests that mesothelioma victims may miss out on around £43,000 on average.  These funds provide some financial security for loved ones as well as paying for care, aids and equipment during the final stages of the illness.

The scheme will only apply to those diagnosed after 25 July 2012, which means yet more sufferers will be unable to access the justice they deserve. Lawyers believe the scheme should help all those diagnosed after February 2010, which is when consultations regarding the scheme began.

Lawyers are also concerned that the scheme will not provide for payment of compensation for estates of victims who die without leaving dependants and had not already made a claim at the time of their death. This may leave families unable to recover costs and expenses incurred during the victim’s life time e.g. nursing and other care cost during the last months of life; or costs incurred in connection with the death, e.g. funeral expenses.

Under the proposals the Department for Work & Pensions would also seek to recover the full amount of illness-related benefits paid out to the victim, despite them only receiving the 75 per cent of the average compensation entitled to them – something lawyers and claimants feel is very unfair.

Adrian Budgen, Head of the National Asbestos-Related Disease team at Irwin Mitchell, said: “It takes decades from the initial exposure to asbestos for symptoms of a related illness to appear, but once they do the consequences are devastating for those families affected.

“In some situations it is impossible to find evidence of victims’ employers’ insurance records where firms have since ceased to exist many years ago. While the Government has tried to address this issue with the promise of a scheme to help those who cannot trace an insurer, many asbestos victims will be left high and dry by the technicalities in the proposals.

“Obviously receiving something is better than nothing but by only providing victims and their families with 75 per cent of the average compensation for mesothelioma victims mean they will miss out on tens of thousands of pounds.

“This also doesn’t take into account that every case is individual and the needs of each person and family are completely different and is particularly hard to understand when the Financial Services Compensation Scheme provides 90 per cent compensation.”

It is estimated that more than 300 mesothelioma sufferers a year miss out on compensation solely because their former employer’s insurers cannot be traced as a result of serial failures by the insurance industry to keep proper records. From 1972 it was compulsory for employers to have Employer Liability insurance and the evidence is that the overwhelming majority had it before then.

Adrian Budgen added: “It’s also important to remember that this is only the tip of the iceberg and there is an ongoing government consultation which is attempting to force the remaining mesothelioma cases to run under a portal scheme which would further impact on access to justice for victims.

“Mesothelioma cases by their very nature are complex, often going back 40-50 years and involving very detailed investigations.

“Mesothelioma victims have faced many legal challenges in recent years. This is yet another one. What they really deserve is full and fair financial security for their families – not to be fed into an automated process which will short change innocent victims, which is what is certain to happen if the government continues to follow this agenda.”