During the late 19th century, asbestos was commonly used within the manufacturing industry due to its affordability, durability, resistance to heat and its sound absorption. Asbestos itself is a natural mineral made up of thin fibrous crystals, and was commonly used to insulate buildings and work places until its use was banned by the European Union in 1999. Although the substance itself is a natural mineral, when inhaled over a pro-longed period, it can cause irreversible damage to the lungs and respiratory system, often causing a form of cancer called mesothelioma. Once a diagnosis of Diffuse Mesothelioma is made, the sufferer will have an average life expectancy of nine to thirteen months.
Government statistics revealed that there are over 4,000 deaths in the UK each year from Mesothelioma and other Asbestos related diseases, and it has been predicted that this figure is set to double over the next decade. Other asbestos related diseases include Asbestosis, and cancers of the lung, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys. Asbestos exposure can also cause pleural thickening. If exposure to asbestos has been the result of the negligence of an employer, a claim could be made for any of the aforementioned diseases for personal injury and other loss.
The Mesothelioma Bill 2013-14, soon to be the Mesothelioma Act 2013, aims to enable those who have been exposed to asbestos and contracted mesothelioma but their employer is no longer trading or does not have insurance to pursue asbestos compensation claims. The provision is envisaged to be similar to that of the Motor Insurers Bureau in respect of a road traffic accident if the third party insurer is not known.
Whilst a provision of such funds is a positive step, the Bill itself does not go far enough in providing a real route to compensating those who have suffered as a result of asbestos exposure. The Bill is restrictive in the amount of compensation that can be claimed, and will only be 70% of the standard compensation that could be awarded outside of the scheme. This does not provide sufferers and their families with a fair means of accessing justice for their employer’s negligence. During the Second Reading of the Bill, the House of Lords themselves stated that working people should have proper protection from personal injury and disease arising out of their work and the Bill in its current state undermines this simple assumption.
Another major drawback of the Bill is that the provisions of the Act can only apply if the sufferer was diagnosed on or after 25th July 2012. Therefore if a sufferer has been diagnosed before this date and cannot trace the negligent employer there is effectively no route to compensation available to them. This surely contradicts the purpose of the Act itself, as many will automatically be excluded from applying for compensation under these provisions.
The Bill is currently proceeding through Consultation within the House of Lords and will be subjected to 3 further sessions of scrutiny before Royal Assent is given. Only time will tell if these criticisms of the Bill will be addressed.
By Nick Molyneux, Personal Injury Solicitor