Mesothelioma Bill – not the act of benevolence it is portrayed as

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

I’m writing this from the ASLEF annual conference, a union whose members are all too familiar with the devastating effects of asbestos exposure, as well as of other industrial diseases.


In the main, members who have become ill, and the many who have tragically died, have been able to claim compensation from the former rail industry employers who exposed them. Even those employers which no longer exist can be traced, more often than not back to British Rail. This means that historic employer liability insurance policies will usually be available and a claim against them can be made.


But thousands of industrial disease sufferers negligently exposed in the course of their work have been unable to trace their employers’ liability insurers and so are unable to bring a claim


Now the government has launched the Mesothelioma Bill, which had its second reading in parliament this week. It establishes a scheme of last resort for untraced employers’ liability insurance claims and has given the coalition a fair few positive news stories.


But it’s not the act of benevolence it is portrayed as. It’s certainly not the proposed scheme which the last Labour government consulted on, which would have created an insurance fund of last resort to compensate all industrial disease victims where the employer has gone out of business and their liability insurer can’t be traced.


It’s unlikely the scheme will pay more than 70% of the average compensation claimants would have got if they could trace their former employer’s liability insurance. And it will only compensate mesothelioma claims, but only then the ones where diagnosis was on or after 25 July 2012 – an arbitrary cut off date based on when the coalition finally got round to announcing the outcome of the consultation which had ended the day before the 2010 general election.


So aside from the thousands of people who have been deprived of compensation over the years due to the insurance industry’s incompetence in losing or destroying the policies it sold for decades in a compulsory market, hundreds more will lose out due to the government’s delay of over two years in announcing its intentions.


A delay no doubt caused by ministers’ cuddling their insurance industry buddies until the latter were completely reassured that the scheme would not dent their vast profits.


There are lots of other holes in the scheme. To read more see this week’s LELR weekly.


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