Disappointment over the final terms of the Mesothelioma Bill, which was given its third and final parliamentary reading on the 7th January, continues to be expressed across the legal world, including WESolicitors. Due now to come into force in July 2014, the Bill has drawn criticism for the limitations placed on eligibility to make a mesothelioma claim.

Both ministers and dedicated asbestosis lawyers are not only angry over the exclusion of patients who suffer with other asbestosis conditions but also furious that the scheme only allows those diagnosed with mesothelioma after 25 July 2012 to be eligible for compensation.

In response, Department of Works and Pension Minister, Mike Penning, who was involved in negotiating the terms of the Bill, agreed that the final deal could probably have been better.

Ensures the scheme can begin as soon as possible

Mr Penning said his concern was to be ‘pragmatic’ given that “the insurers did not come happily to the table”, and ensure the scheme can begin as soon as possible to help victims of mesothelioma disease. Previously the minister had stressed that the scheme was developed for victims to gain faster access to compensation “while they are still alive.”

A long standing issue has often been that mesothelioma patients pass away before a claim was finally resolved due to life expectancy following a confirmed diagnosis is on average between 4 and 12 months. In some instances, a dispute could be drawn out for years at a time with former employers / and or insurers contesting whether an insurance policy was in place at the time of the original exposure as well as the extent of employer liability.

Despite the intention to provide mesothlioma compensation to 3,500 previously excluded sufferers in the first ten years, because the scheme is to be funded through a levy on insurers, only 75 per cent of the compensation amount will be paid. At the third reading of the Bill, an attempt to raise compensation payment to 80 per cent was defeated.

“Nothing had been done for so long, but now something is being done”

According to Mr Penning “the negotiations were based on what we could get agreement on without putting a further burden on business … nothing had been done for so long, but now something is being done and the insurance companies are not happy about it.”

In the aftermath of the third reading, regret over the limited scope of the Bill has been voiced, including David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, who pointed out that “ …employer liability was paid to these insurance companies. They have had their money and they have run with it.”

According to Matthew Stockwell, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, the scheme was a “valuable first step” but felt that victims are being “ forced” to use the scheme because insurance records are no longer available, adding that “ they are to be penalised by losing a quarter of what the courts determine is fair redress. This is not the justice these people deserve.”

“Step in the right direction”

Steven Evans, Partner and Head of the asbestos department at WESolicitors welcomes the new scheme as it “will help a small, albeit important number of mesothelioma victims and their families who otherwise would receive no compensation.”

However, Mr Evans is concerned that “victims will still have to prove they were exposed at work and will have to make exhaustive enquiries as to the identity of the insurance companies before they will be eligible to submit a claim under the scheme.”

Whilst also agreeing that “the scheme for untraced insurers is a step in the right direction, there are still innumerable hurdles being placed in the path of victims and families” and Mr Evans “fails to understand why the scheme was not extended to include victims of asbestos related lung cancer and other conditions.”