Mesothelioma claims stumped by MPs' delays, say legal experts

Dated:

Compensation claims for mesothelioma contracted in the workplace are being delayed because of parliamentary process, according to Simpson Millar LLP Solicitors.

Asbestos Lung Disease Mesothelioma

The firm has on its books at least 8 mesothelioma cases which have been held up due to lack of information on the responsible employers and their insurers.

All concern people who contracted the asbestos-related cancer between the late 1960s and the 1970s, yet because of its long latency were only diagnosed with mesothelioma within the last 4 years.

One sufferer, whose exposure to asbestos can reliably be dated to 1976 and her job at a now-defunct Porthcawl factory, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2009 and died 2 years later.

Another claimant, who came into contact with asbestos when he worked for a Luton-based building contractor between 1957 and 1967, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January this year.

A 3rd, in whom mesothelioma was also identified in January 2013, worked in 1975 for a Swansea engineering company contracted to a number of steelworks, where he was regularly exposed to asbestos.

In each case, the sufferers' respective employers are clearly liable for damages. However, because the firms and/or their insurers cannot now be traced, hopes of securing redress for those exposed – or, in the case of the deceased, for her widower – are fast deteriorating.

In the House of Commons, Stephen Timms (Lab, East Ham) asked what ministerial progress had been made in implementing government proposals for enabling claimants to track down insurers in efforts to secure compensation.

In response the Minister for Employment, Mark Hoban, referred to the Employers' Liability Tracing Office (ELTO): a comprehensive insurance industry database of all new and renewed employer liability (EL) policies, old EL policies with new claims made against them and all successful traces.

"To date more than 99% of the active EL insurance market has joined ELTO," Mr Hoban said. "We are currently working up the details for a scheme where we propose to make payments to people diagnosed from 25 July 2012 with diffuse mesothelioma, as a result of their negligent exposure to asbestos at work and who are unable to trace their liable employer or their employer's insurance policy to claim against."

Adding that primary legislation is required to kick-start the scheme, proposals for which were first set out in July 2012, the minister said: "We hope to introduce a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows."

In all of the above cases, Simpson Millar tried to trace the relevant insurer through ELTO, but to no avail.

The firm's Phillip Gower, an expert in industrial disease and work-related illness claims, said that despite the minister's upbeat position, "perfectly valid" claims for compensation are being delayed by Parliament.

"We would be likely to establish liability and recover substantial damages in these cases," Phillip said. "But as the companies are no longer around and/or the insurers are not traceable, we cannot proceed. Deserving claimants are left with just a lump sum payment, which is sometimes as low as £5,000, plus modest industrial injuries benefit until they die."

"They are effectively denied the chance to pursue a valid and important claim for themselves and their families after diagnosis of a fatal condition."

Phillip noted that for each of the 3 cases described, the claim would normally have a enjoyed a 75% chance of success.

Expressing some doubt whether the scheme will finally be implemented at all, Phillip added: "It is very difficult to explain to a claimant the reasons for such delay since the scheme was announced as long ago as July 2012. This is a considerable period of time for someone told they have mesothelioma, with the extremely limited life expectancy that this implies.

"The government's delay in setting up the scheme sadly means some clients will die before they see any of the money they deserve and, in many cases, so desperately need."

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