A government scheme designed to speed payments to mesothelioma sufferers could leave them thousands of pounds out of pocket and will not help other asbestos victims, according to claimant personal injury lawyers.
If enacted, the Mesothelioma Bill – announced in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech – would create a payment scheme for people with the disease where no liable employer or insurer can be traced. A fixed-costs claims process will aim to pay out in three to five months, compared to under three months where an employer or insurer is known.
Under the scheme – funded by a levy on insurers – from July 2014 anyone in the UK diagnosed with mesothelioma after 25 July 2012 will be able to make a claim. It is estimated that around 300 people a year encounter missing documents, although employer’s liability insurance has been compulsory for more than 40 years.
Mesothelioma claims were excluded from the Jackson reforms during the passage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act after a House of Lords revolt. The government then said the delay was only pending a solution for those unable to identify their employer’s insurer.
However, Adrian Budgen, head of Irwin Mitchell’s asbestos-related disease team criticised the detail of the scheme, which he said will apply only to mesothelioma and so will “leave around half of asbestos victims high and dry”.
He also expressed disquiet at reports that settlements under the scheme would be 30% lower than the average compensation received currently. His firm’s research indicated that mesothelioma victims could on average miss out on some £52,000.
“This doesn’t take into account that every case is individual and the needs of each person and family are completely different,” he said.
John Spencer, director of Chesterfield-based claimant personal injury firm Spencers Solicitors and vice-president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, also objected to the exclusion of non-mesothelioma asbestos victims. He said: “All victims of asbestos-related disease should receive the urgent compensation they deserve… it is not right that those who suffer other lung cancers or conditions caused by asbestos may get nothing under the proposed legislation.”
Mr Budgen also raised the spectre of portal changes, which he said would “mean a further impact on access to justice for victims”.
He added: “Mesothelioma victims have faced many legal challenges in recent years. This is yet another one. What they really deserve is full and fair financial security for their families – not to be fed into an automated process which will short change innocent victims, which is what is certain to happen if the government continues to follow this agenda.”
Association of British Insurers director general, Otto Thoresen, welcomed the Bill and said: “Mesothelioma is a devastating disease which has a terrible impact on sufferers and their families. The insurance industry wants to do all it can to help sufferers and has worked with the government on this package of measures that will deliver help to claimants much faster, including to those who would otherwise go uncompensated.”