New measures to speed up the process of compensating mesothelioma victims – including changes to costs rules – are to be introduced as part of a multi-million pound support scheme announced yesterday to help those who cannot trace a liable employer or employers’ liability insurer.
Claimant groups have welcomed the support scheme as a step in the right direction but criticised its scope and particularly the exclusion of sufferers of other asbestos-related diseases.
There will be an online portal for all mesothelioma sufferers to register claims and for the parties involved to exchange information in a secure electronic way in order to settle claims more quickly. A mesothelioma pre-action protocol will ensure that evidence is disclosed early.
The government is promising improvements in providing information it holds that is needed to support claims, including standardised medical diagnosis, employment schedules from HM Revenue & Customs, and information on state benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions.
The package will also address “the civil litigation costs for all mesothelioma claims, to reflect the faster claims process and in line with the government’s wider reforms”, the announcement said, without providing any more detail.
The support scheme – agreed by the government and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) – will allow around 300 mesothelioma victims across the UK who each year are unable to claim compensation because they cannot trace a liable employer or employers’ liability insurer to receive approximately £30m in payments on a tariff basis, although the details of how this will work have also not yet been released.
The scheme only applies to victims diagnosed from yesterday, and will require primary legislation to implement. The hope is that the first payments will be made by July 2014.
Membership of the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) – which runs an electronic database of employers’ liability policies – will become compulsory for all employers’ liability insurers, including companies who have provided employers’ liability insurance in the past, to ensure that where there is a liable insurer, they will pay the claim.
There will be a levy on current employers’ liability insurers to fund the scheme at an estimated cost of £25-£35m a year.
Otto Thoresen, the ABI’s director-general, said: “Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive cancer and the insurance industry, working with government, is determined to do all it can to ensure that sufferers get the support they need as soon as possible. This package of measures will deliver help to claimants much faster, including to those who would otherwise go un-compensated.”
Tony Whitston, chairman of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum, said the fixed payouts under the scheme would be lower than those from a Motor Insurers’ Bureau type scheme – operating on a regular civil law basis – which had previously been the government’s main option for introducing compensation.
He said: “We must welcome this first movement on untraced insurance, which provides compensation for mesothelioma sufferers, but we are disappointed at the reduced amounts payable, and we are bitterly disappointed at the exclusion of so many people who suffer from diseases such as asbestosis or lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.”
Deborah Evans, chief executive of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, welcomed the scheme but said it is “a missed opportunity to provide help for a much wider range of people with very serious asbestos-related diseases, and it stops short of providing victims with the full compensation which they need and which they would receive through the courts”. She also criticised the “arbitrary” start date.