Proposed bill in Parliament raises issue of asbestos compensation
On 5th February 2010, Andrew Dismore introduced the Damages (Asbestos-Related Conditions) (No 2) Bill to Parliament. The bill proposed that people suffering from pleural plaques or asbestosis could claim damages from the person liable for causing the problems. This proposed bill followed a ruling by the House of Lords in 2007 that meant those suffering from pleural plaque lost their right to compensation. A statement by the government in February 2010 said, “While the current medical evidence is clear that pleural plaques are a marker of exposure to asbestos… any increased risk of a person with pleural plaques developing an asbestos-related disease arises because of that person’s exposure to asbestos rather than because of the plaques themselves.”
Despite failing to become law, the proposed bill has raised the issue of asbestos compensation. Exposure to asbestos can cause very serious health problems, including mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Up to 2006, there were 50-80 new cases every year of ‘assessed disablement’ as a result of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. In 2006, the criteria for compensation were changed to include cases of lung cancer where individuals had been exposed to asbestos, not just cases where there was evidence of asbestosis. This has led to an increase in the number of cases: in 2008, there were 240 cases, in 2009, there were 335 cases. The HSE point out that “this still falls far short of the estimated number of annual cases based on the mesothelioma:lung cancer ratio.”
The tragedy of asbestos-related diseases is all too clear from the story of a family in Leeds. The wife of a retired electrician agreed an out of court settlement after her husband died of mesothelioma. He died just under four months after being diagnosed. His wife said “The small consolation was that he was no longer in pain, although he must have kept a stiff upper lip in silence… Nothing can ever replace what has been lost.”
Asbestos compensation is obviously not the first thing that a family will think of after a diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma. A diagnosis can be devastating and many patients will be told they have only months to live. However, compensation can be useful to take off some of the pressure of money worries and to provide long-term financial security for the sufferer and their family.
Because asbestos-related diseases are not diagnosed until many years after exposure, it can be difficult to establish liability and claim compensation. Asbestos was an extremely popular building material until the health risks that it posed were realised so it may be difficult to determine exactly when exposure took place and who was to blame. Exposure tends to happen in the workplace and claims can be taken up against former employers or the employer’s insurance company. Diseases like mesothelioma progress quickly but many solicitors firms are able to bring a case to conclusion within a matter of months.