The Mesothelioma Bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords. It seeks to remedy the historic failure of insurance companies to maintain records of employers’ liability insurance. This failure has meant those suffering from the incurable mesothelioma disease caused by exposure to asbestos, whose employers are no longer trading and who have been unable to trace insurers have for decades gone uncompensated.
According to the Health & Safety Executive in 2010 the Mesothelioma Register recorded 2347 deaths from mesothelioma in the UK. This can be compared to the figure of 153 in 1968. The peak is continually adjusted and is now expected to be between 2018 to 2021. This terminal illness which is not self-inflicted is going to continue to affect the lives of the sufferers and their families for decades to come.
The Mesothelioma Bill is welcomed as a first step, but there is bitter disappointment as to its current short comings. First the Bill does not extend to sufferers of other asbestos related diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer. Deaths in the UK as of 2010 for these two diseases relating to asbestos exposure totalled nearly 2500 which is in addition to the mesothelioma deaths. Over 50% of potential sufferers could be ruled out, but by including them would only represent just 20% of the total cost. The Bill also excludes all mesothelioma sufferers who were diagnosed prior to 25 July 2012.
The Bill currently limits the amount of compensation to 70% of an “average claim”. Lord Freud indicated in the latest reading on 27 June that this figure would be £87,000. Lord Wills commented “does he recognise the deep sense of injustice felt by so many that the insurers are refusing to pay 100% of all claims to all those who are entitled to them?”
James Walsh, Partner of Wolferstans, an expert in asbestos litigation including many mesothelioma claims from all over the country comments “the Government say sufferers must have an incentive to trace the insurer hence the arbitrary deduction of 30%. What is clear though it is the insurers who have everything to gain under the scheme as they stand to save a lot of money if the sufferer is unable to trace an insurer, because if they do succeed they will get compensation based on their individual circumstance and not just an average payment. Having dealt with asbestos litigation for 17 years I do not see how they can reach an average figure as low as £87,000 even after deduction of 30%. Where have the Government obtained their figures which seem unjustly low – they have certainly not contacted me or my colleagues. I presume the insurance industry have been approached to provide their figures.”
Lord Bishop of Rippon and Leeds who was at the bedside of one of his clergy who recently died of mesothelioma asked Lord Freud “will the Minister tell us what part sufferers themselves, their relatives and support groups will play in managing what sometimes comes over as an agreement and arrangement between government and insurance agencies?” Lord Freud responded “the idea that there is some kind of cosy relationship between the government and the insurance industry is absolutely not true”.
It is hoped the Mesothelioma Bill will be amended in favour of the sufferers, but it is unlikely to be until April 2014 that payments will be made following the Parliamentary process. Unfortunately this will be too late for some.
Head of Asbestos Litigation at Wolferstans Solicitors