Asbestos claimants are not part of “compensation culture”

April 17, 2012 5:40 pm

MPs are voting today on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The Bill makes sweeping reforms to the funding of legal cases. It is important that savings are made in the total legal aid budget and that we take steps to reduce the cost of litigation, while protecting access to justice and social welfare legal aid. But the Government’s proposals coupled with their cuts to social welfare legal aid, at a time when funding for advice services such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau are being cut, are both disproportionate and unfair and could prevent the most vulnerable in society from pursuing legitimate legal action, including on complex claims for life threatening illnesses.

The Bill, which is in its final Parliamentary stage, has suffered 11 defeats in the House of Lords. Coming after votes on domestic violence and medical negligence, we will vote on the exemption inserted by the House of Lords to exclude industrial disease cases. Amendments seeking to exclude industrial respiratory diseases from the scope of Government reforms aimed at tackling the “compensation culture”, which would require claimants to pay 25% of damages to their lawyers will be voted on tonight.

This vote will resonate in my constituency, Leeds West, because of the terrible illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.
A stone’s throw from my constituency office in Armley is the site of the JW Roberts factory, which exposed its workers and neighbouring homes to the dangerous fibres found in asbestos. The factory is now notorious for releasing asbestos fibres into the surrounding area and leaving the tightly packed streets covered in a dusting of asbestos. The companies knew that asbestos fibres were deadly, but they didn’t tell that to the parents of children playing with asbestos ‘snowballs’, marking out hopscotch grids in the dust, or to the workers being exposed to deadly fibres at work.

The reforms in this Bill are based on the costs related to some litigation claims, which can approach and even exceed the damages awarded. I agree that altering legal arrangements can work for spurious whiplash claimants, who might be put off by the idea of losing their damages if they pursue dodgy cases, and other straightforward actions.

But someone with an asbestos-related cancer, like mesothelioma, is not making up their illness to make a quick buck. For mesothelioma cases, the average total legal costs are just 17% of damages paid, compared to other types of claim where the costs match and exceed the damages. These are cases where the victim will die, usually a painful death, punished by a cancer which has been caused in so many cases by the victim having simply turned up to work to do their job or even just because they lived near a factory.

The complex claims often turn on the legal minutiae in employers’ insurance documents and can take years to resolve. The Supreme Court recently ruled on a landmark case which defines when insurance documents ‘trigger’ liability. The case argued whether the words ‘disease contracted’ and ‘injury sustained’ made insurance policies pay out to workers who have developed the disease over time. It has been a protracted legal battle, which will have profound impacts on other potential claimants.

The claimants who bring these cases cannot possibly be part of the “compensation culture” the government says it is targeting. June Hancock, who contracted mesothelioma when she lived in Armley, fought a protracted battle to get compensation. She was supported by my predecessor John Battle, and her case paved the way for further complex claims to come to court. How can it be right to legislate to take 25% of a damages payment away from victims like her?

This is an issue that has united campaigners across the political divide. The amendment we are voting on today is one of 11 defeats suffered by this controversial Bill – more defeats than any other Bill this Parliament. so far, the most to a Bill brought by the Coalition Government. When they go to the lobbies tonight, MPs must bear in mind the experiences of mesothelioma sufferers – those exposed to the fibres at work, at school or in the streets – and compare their experiences to the ‘compensation culture’ and consider the fundamental importance of access to justice.

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  • Jos Bell

    as someone who has personally sustained horrendous workplace injury the way in which this group are being dismissed out of hand is disgraceful. Bear in mind also that the Public Health White Paper made absolutely no mention of health and safety in the workplace – indeed several years ago Grayling referred to it as ‘just so much red tape’. Perish the thought that anyone who goes out to work should be eligible for protection – and compensation if the worst happens. The net result sees this group becoming reliant upon benefits – and again in line for serious villification. ‘Win win’ eh?

    • treborc1

        I have plaques caused by Asbestos although not serious yet my father could not breath with it, and in the end died with it. My brother is fighting for his life now, all this from working on the boilers in a Power station at Pembroke, when the sun  use to shine through the windows you could see the Asbestos fibres  shine in the sun, yet none of us had any special clothes or protection, my wife would then wash my overalls.

      But the sad fact is labour brings this up now it could have been sorted when they were in power, I through the GMB brought up for discussion Asbestos to be told nope sorry labour had  more important items to discuss.

      I suppose this will mean we are all work shy scroungers then.

      • Dave Postles

         Treborc1
        Compensation, even if more easily available, isn’t enough.  There should be an apology.  The fact is that the suffering of working people in the past is ignored.  There should a national memorial.

      • Trispw

        The Scottish government passed a law in 2009 (which was contested by insurance companies) . From the Scottish Government’s site:

        From the 1980s onwards, where pleural plaques arose from negligent exposure to asbestos, Courts throughout the UK made compensation awards; those awards were paid by the negligent party or their insurer. On October 17, 2007, however, the House of Lords ruled in respect of a number of cases in England that asymptomatic pleural plaques do not give rise to a cause of action under the law of damages. The House of Lords ruling is not binding in Scotland, but would be considered highly persuasive by Scottish Courts.In November 2007 the Scottish Government announced its intention to bring forward legislation to ensure that the House of Lords ruling would not have effect in Scotland. In June, 2008, the Scottish Government introduced the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was passed in March 2009, got Royal Assent the following month, and came fully into force in June 2009.The Outer House decision on judicial review was announced on January 8, 2010, with the Inner House decision announced on April 12, 2011.

        • treborc1

          Not a lot of good, living in Wales, but Unions are fighting this I suspect somewhere down the line when many of us are dead, we will end up with an offer of £50,000 as they did with coal miners to get £100,000

          • Dave Postles

            It’s an abomination, old son, but let’s hope that the unions persist.  What I’d really like to see is a national memorial to all working people who have died because of these inadequacies of the workplace.  I’d like an enormous statue of coalminers, steelworkers, construction workers, cotton factory workers etc (apologies for those omitted here) where we could pay our respects on May Day – why not re-designate it Labour Day, as they do in the US? 

        • M Cannon

          The cases considered by the House of Lords in 2007 were of symptomless pleural plaques, that is internal plaques which were not visible, did not cause any symptoms and would only be detectable by scan or, when the person who had them died for some other reason, by autopsy.

          Having such pleural plaques showed that you had been exposed to asbestos, and so could potentially contract asbestosis, diffuse pleural thickening or mesothelioma, but had not yet contracted any of those conditions (for each of which damages are awarded against employers who wrongly exposed their employees to asbestos).

          The only possible award of damages would be for the worry of knowing that you might contract one of those diseases.

    • Dave Postles

      I’m really sorry that you have suffered so and been neglected.  It is disgraceful.  

      • Jos Bell

        that’s kind – but although I initially put it in a personal context I was speaking for the many who find their lives shattered. It’s a very difficult situation for anyone to fully understand unless they are personally affected – whether directly or because of injury to family/friends. The lack of support in the UK is already shocking in comparison to counterpart countries and this will make it even worse.  Given the policy stress on access to work it’s a dreadful irony that those who become either temporarily or permanently damaged through workplace accident or negligence are to be left with nothing. 

        • Dave Postles

          In that case, I shall just admire your compassion and empathy – and thanks for your eloquent comment – as also Treborc below.

        • Dave Postles

          In that case, I shall just admire your compassion and empathy – and thanks for your eloquent comment – as also Treborc below.

        • Dave Postles

          In that case, I shall just admire your compassion and empathy – and thanks for your eloquent comment – as also Treborc below.

        • Dave Postles

          In that case, I shall just admire your compassion and empathy – and thanks for your eloquent comment – as also Treborc below.

        • Dave Postles

          In that case, I shall just admire your compassion and empathy – and thanks for your eloquent comment – as also Treborc below.

  • Peter Barnard

     Powerful comments from Jos Bell and Treborc.

    If “politics is largely a matter of heart” as R A Butler remarked to Peter Hennessy, I’m afraid that there isn’t much heart around these days. It really is intolerable that people should be put to additional worry while government, insurance companies, lawyers, and employers argue the toss.

    It is also intolerable that this situation has been allowed to drag on for so long.
     
     

    • treborc1

      All I ask is simple stop the work shy scrounger rhetoric.

      • Peter Barnard

        You won’t hear that kind of rhetoric from me, Treborc.

        • treborc1

           I know that, few on here who I would call Labour, sadly you cannot say the same of the party.

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