Newly diagnosed victims of mesothelioma – the aggressive and fatal cancer caused by asbestos – will receive help for the first time through a new support scheme, as part of a bill currently going through Parliament.
The package will award over £350 million over 10 years to around 3,000 mesothelioma victims across the UK who have been prevented from claiming compensation because they cannot trace a liable employer or an employers’ liability insurer.
The draft legislation brings hope for those working in heavy industries like shipbuilding, where asbestos was in widespread use before being banned completely in 1999.
Mesothelioma, which often takes 40 to 50 years to present symptoms after exposure to asbestos, has resulted in over 300 people every year struggling to find a relevant party to sue for damages, because companies become insolvent or insurance records go missing.
Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning said:
This scheme represents a major breakthrough for the many victims of this terrible disease – who have been failed by successive governments and the insurance industry for decades. It will end an injustice that has left many tragic victims and their families high and dry.
The aggressive and terminal nature of this disease, coupled by the fact we’re approaching a peak in cases in the coming years, makes it imperative that we get this legislation in place as soon as possible.
The new package of support – funded by insurance firms – will pay nearly 900 eligible people in 2014 and 300 every year after that, until 2024. Victims or their dependants (where the sufferer has died), will receive substantially higher payments than the statutory schemes currently operated by government. On average, a successful applicant will receive a sum of £115,000 before benefit recovery.
Subject to primary legislation, the proposals will make it compulsory for all active employers’ liability insurers to fund a scheme to pay eligible people who contracted the disease at work, but who cannot trace a party to sue. It’s hoped that payments can be made from July 2014.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of internal organs, such as the lungs, and almost always arises from exposure to asbestos. Life expectancy from diagnosis is 8 to 9 months on average.
The long time that mesothelioma takes to develop – sometimes 40 to 50 years after exposure before symptoms appear – means that some workers were negligently exposed to asbestos at work but their employers are no longer in existence to make a claim against. Insurance records from the time are also often incomplete.
The new scheme will pay those who develop diffuse mesothelioma as a result of negligent exposure to asbestos at work and are unable to claim compensation because they cannot trace a liable employer or employers’ liability insurer. The scheme applies to people diagnosed with mesothelioma from 25 July 2012.
In April 2011, the ABI voluntarily established the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) – an electronic database of employers’ liability insurance policies to which 99% of employers liability insurers’ provide data. Membership of ELTO will become compulsory for all insurers, including companies who have provided employers’ liability insurance in the past to ensure that where there is a liable insurer, they pay the claim.
Asbestos prohibition laws in the United Kingdom were first introduced in the mid-1980s. In 1985, the UK banned the import and use of both blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos. This rule was replaced in 1992 with a law that also banned some uses of white (chrysotile) asbestos – traditionally considered less lethal than the other forms of the mineral. In 1999, the government decided, with no exceptions, to ban the use and import of chrysotile asbestos.
Other asbestos-related laws passed during the 1990s stipulated that work on any asbestos insulation products (removal, etc.) may only be carried out by a licensed asbestos professional. Asbestos-at-work regulations have set maximum exposure limits and require that all asbestos be identified and managed properly. Regulations also require that employees at risk for asbestos exposure be trained in asbestos safety precautions.
DWP currently operate two schemes to make payments to people who contract mesothelioma:
- The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 provides lump sum payments to workers with certain dust related diseases (including mesothelioma), whose employer or insurer cannot be traced. On average these payments are £18,000 for mesothelioma claims.
- Part 4 of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 provides lump sum compensation for all mesothelioma sufferers, regardless as to whether the disease was caused through exposure to asbestos in employment or not – these payments are £20,000 on average.
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