Time for an asbestos compensation fund?

Following the release of government statistics, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), have analysed and released further figures for areas, cities and towns showing relative rates of asbestos related deaths. Barrow-In-Furness found itself at the top with 8.4 deaths per 100,000 followed by the Medway area of Kent at 6.5 deaths. Westminster has the lowest rate of deaths with 0.9. The national average is 2.5 deaths per 100,000.

In 1968 there were only 153 deaths caused by the asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma.  In 2009 this had risen to 2,321.

Asbestos affects people from all walks of life who have been exposed to asbestos dust in the past.  The distressing thing about it is that it is a silent killer taking at least ten years from exposure to actually developing a condition.  This period can be as long as 40 years. Knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure was such that from as early as the turn of the 20th century evidence was readily available to show that asbestos inhalation was not only dangerous but deadly. From the 30s onwards measures were supposed to be taken to curb exposure and by 1965 it was recognised that even small amounts of exposure could lead to developing mesothelioma. Unfortunately, employers continued to ignore the warnings and it was not until the 1980s that asbestos use truly ended in the UK.

The inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause several conditions from the mostly serious such as lung cancer and mesothelioma to asbestosis, pleural thickening and pleural plaques.  The latter is a condition which most often is symptomless but for which the law allows claims to be made in respect of compensation in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.  The government in Westminster seems reluctant to create a level playing field across the country.  This has lead to obvious inequalities. Sadly, it is not only medical cover that is now a post code lottery.

Unfortunately areas of heavy industry attract a larger incidence of asbestos disease. This is clearly due to the extensive use as an insulator throughout various factories and industrial processes.  This is especially true of industry such as foundries and ship building.  There are also high incidence amongst those involved in construction and in particular the construction of power stations.  This is why we often see clusters in relatively small cities such as Plymouth, which has the third highest incidence of mesothelioma in the country due to the dockyard.

But there are also incidences from plumbers, electricians, roofers, painters and decorators and even housewives.  The latter were exposed washing the clothes of their husbands which were contaminated with dust.  Incidences in all of these groups are still on the rise and the peak for men is not expected until 2016 according to some predictions. That for women may yet take until 2020 to reach the high point.  Perhaps more worryingly is the number of people exposed in settings such as schools where they came into contact with very low levels of asbestos dust developing mesothelioma as mentioned above.

It is the case that, even if employers are out of business, asbestos compensation claims can still be made against defunct companies or other organisations.  This is the case because often a policy of insurance can be found covering the period of employment or exposure even if it was as far back as the fifties or sixties.  There are however cases where no insurance can be found and the employer or other organisation no longer exist and there is no-one alive from management who may be able to identify an insurer.  This is where a fund of last resort would come in.  It would allow those without redress to seek some compensation. The government proposed such a fund to be paid for by insurers who profited from employers liability policies held in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  This was 18 months ago and so far no moves have been made to actually bring the proposal beyond the stage of a suggestion.  This is despite pressure from APIL, its members and the press and public.

APIL president David Bott has said in reference to the statistics and the proposed fund:

“...the number of men dying from this disease is expected to peak during the next five years and what many people don’t realise is that hundreds of sufferers across the UK cannot get the compensation they need to help them through the last days of their life.

"What is needed is for the Government to bring forward proposals for a fund of last resort which would act as a safety net for injured workers who are otherwise unable to pursue the justice they deserve.” 

It is clear that the fund of last resort is increasingly necessary to cope with the large number of people exposed who will otherwise have no recompense and will have to rely on the state to provide for them in their hour of need. 

If you believe you may have an asbestos related disease and you would like to discuss making a claim for compensation, please contact Andrew Stinchcombe or Graeme Chisholm.

Below are just some of APIL’s figures for the areas shown:

RegionNumber of deaths per 100,000
South Tyneside5.2
Forest of Dean3.7
New Forest3.7
West Norfolk3.1
East Lancashire3
East Cheshire3
Weymouth and Portland3
High Peak2.8
Reigate and Banstead 2.8
North Dorset2.2
East Dorset2
West Dorset1.7



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