There was welcome news last week for victims of asbestos related mesothelioma in the UK – the government has increased the packages available for those who are unable to trace a liable former employer or an employer’s liability insurer from the £115,000 debated in the House of Commons in January. This means that sufferers of the disease could be looking at compensation payouts averaging £123,000, ending years of injustice for around 3,500 victims and their families. This will enable them to apply for compensation from a pot of £380 million from next month.
Mike Penning, the Work and Pensions Minister in the UK has revealed that it was an unrestricted priority to launch this scheme as soon as legislation allows because around 2,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year. These numbers are expected to increase over the coming 30 years with between 56,000 and 63,000 deaths expected according to the Department for Work and Pensions.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos and can take up to 50 years to develop. However, when the symptoms do emerge most people die within three years. The cancer is most often found in those who worked in industries with heavy exposure to asbestos up to 1985 when the import and use of blue and brown asbestos (known as Crocidlite and Amosite respectively) were banned in the UK. The industries in which asbestos was most commonly used include construction, ship building, power generation and engineering.
Until now, victims and their families have been able to claim for damages under two sets of legislation, but the sums awarded have not usually been more than £20,000. This new fund means that claimants will be entitled to 80% of the average payout settlement in civil cases relating to mesothelioma, with payments ranging from £115 to £123. The fund will provide £7,000 towards legal costs on top of the compensation payment amount.
In order to receive the payments, claimants will need to show that they were negligently exposed to asbestos in the workplace and cannot claim compensation as they are unable to find the liable employer or insurance company. In many cases this is due to the relevant culpable party becoming insolvent or in cases where insurance records are missing. This is expected to address the plight of those victims and their families who have endured this insidious disease without recourse to compensation from the insurance industry.
The scheme will be administered by claims handling company, Gallagher Basset and was specifically designed to accept direct applications from applicants without the help of a solicitor. If no solicitor is retained, the claimant will retain the relevant £7,000 in legal fees.
The Mesothelioma Act was passed by the UK government in January 2014 and involves the creation of a new package of support funded by insurance companies to pay more than 800 eligible claimants in 2014, with 300 per year from then onwards until 2024.