Positive news for the many mesothelioma sufferers who have been unable to claim compensation because former employers or their liability insurers cannot be traced, was announced in the Queen’s speech at the official opening of Parliament on 8th May.
The introduction of the Mesothelioma Bill, the terms of which were originally set out in July 2012, will now enable around 3,500 previously excluded sufferers to receive mesothlioma compensation totalling £355m in the first ten years of the scheme, due to come into force in July 2014.
Record of asbestos exposure
Previous disputes over whether a particular employer maintained insurance at the time of the victim’s exposure to asbestos, which often delayed compensation payments for years at a time should no longer be an obstacle to an individual claim. A special committees is to be formed with the power to make a binding decision.
The legislation will also ensure that from now on insurers will maintain a detailed record of incidents of asbestos exposure under the Employers’ Liability insurance policy and establish an insurers-funded financial scheme in addition to the present £200m compensation paid annually to support victims of the fatal, incurable disease.
Any individual who has been diagnosed with the fatal, incurable asbestos-related cancer from 25 July 2012 will now be eligible to make a mesothelioma claim.
However, many have accused the government of not going far enough in addressing the needs of all asbestos exposure victims as the Mesothelioma Bill does not provide any legislation for helping individuals with asbestos-related lung cancer and other asbestosis diseases who have been unable to trace their insurers.
In 2011, there was 725 newly assessed cases of asbestosis (Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, 2011) and in 2012, there was an estimated 2,000 asbestos related lung cancer deaths, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Mesothelioma rate rising
The incidence rate of mesothelioma in the UK has been steadily rising in the UK with a four-fold increase just in the last thirty years (Office of National Statistics). According to the HSE there are at least 4,700 asbestos disease related deaths recorded every year, which could reach over 60,000 by 2050.
Asbestos was still being used in construction and manufacturing industries until the 1980s at least and despite the growing asbestos awareness to the long term health risks, often employers sought to minimise the dangers and very little information or safety equipment was made available.
Inhaled asbestos fibre dust particles are known to remain in the lung linings, causing inflammation, leading to asbestosis disease and forming malignant mesothelioma cancer cells over a period of up to 50 years or more.
Following a confirmed diagnosis, and often with only a limited life expectancy, a mesothelioma victim will attempt to trace former employers and/or their insurers, who in many instances are no longer in business.
Under the new legislation, the Ministry of Justice is consulting on streamlining procedures by which compensation can be paid within three months, and between three to five months in cases where a liable party cannot be found.