Lawyers Say Government’s New Asbestos Law ‘Does Not Put Victims First’
By Helen MacGregor
A mum-of-four who has a terminal cancer has criticised the Government’s new Mesothelioma Bill which is currently going through parliament, and says she is being ‘robbed’ of her chance to seek justice.
Lorraine Berry was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a terminal cancer caused by inhaling deadly asbestos dust in April 2012, aged just 48. She has spent the last 14 months struggling to come to terms with the fact that she will be robbed of family life, because she wasn’t protected from asbestos while she worked.
The cancer develops in the lining of the lungs and is caused by inhaling asbestos fibres. It is more commonly diagnosed in people in their 60s 70s and 80s as it can take up to 50 years to develop, but is aggressive and incurable no matter what age it strikes.
Lorraine, who is married to Jason and lives in Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire, worked as an office administration assistant for property development company Pinecraven Ltd between 1983 and 1985.
She remembers being exposed to asbestos there when she was based in a temporary office in the old Rye Street Hospital in Bishop’s Stortford while it was being converted into flats. She had to clean the office, which was always dusty due to the office window being left open and the regeneration work created a lot of dust.
Determined to seek justice, she instructed specialist asbestos lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help.
Pinecraven Ltd is no longer trading and so asbestos experts attempted to trace the company’s insurance policy. Employers Liability Insurance was compulsory from 1972, however no insurance could be found meaning that Lorraine will be unable to bring a claim for the damages she is entitled to as a result of her diagnosis.
It is estimated that more than 300 mesothelioma sufferers a year miss out on justice because insurance documents for their employer have disappeared.
Unfortunately, a new law that is meant to rectify this injustice by helping mesothelioma sufferers, who cannot trace their former employer’s insurers launch a claim, only applies to those diagnosed after 25th July 2012 – meaning Lorraine is not eligible because she was diagnosed three months before the cut off.
Lorraine says she is bitterly disappointed at the Mesothelioma Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech in April and as the country marks Action Mesothelioma Day on Friday 5th July, she is echoing Irwin Mitchell’s calls for it not to be pushed through parliament. She says it is "unfair" and "punishes hard workers who were exposed to asbestos through no fault of their own".
Rosemary Giles, a Partner who specialises in helping asbestos victims at Irwin Mitchell’s London office, said: “It can take several decades from the initial exposure to asbestos for symptoms of 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, the law only applies to people who were diagnosed with mesothelioma after the 25th of July 2012, which will leave many asbestos victims high and dry.”
Lorraine, who is undergoing chemotherapy to try and manage the cancer, added: “I am disappointed that the Mesothelioma Bill will simply not provide for many thousands of victims and their families, including my own and as the country remembers mesothelioma victims on Action Mesothelioma Day, I hope sharing my plight will raise awareness of this.
“Rather than helping asbestos victims, it is robbing us of our final chance to seek justice and provide our loved ones with financial security. It is frustrating that there is a matter of just three months preventing me from pursuing a claim.
“It’s just totally unfair that people diagnosed a short time apart with the same asbestos-related condition through no fault of their own are set to be treated so differently.
“We’re all absolutely devastated by my diagnosis and are finding it so hard to come to terms with it because it’s so unexpected. I’ve always been very active doing pilates, gym and taking the dog for long walks and to now have cancer because of something that is not my fault makes me very angry.
“To know that I will miss out on so many important events, such as my youngest daughter going to university and my children getting married is impossible to come to terms with.”
Rosemary Giles added: “It’s 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 mean a further impact on access to justice for victims.
“Mesothelioma cases by their very nature are complex, often going back 40-50 years and involving detailed investigations.
“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.”
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to Mesothelioma claims