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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Failure to protect asbestos victims is simply scandalous

There are certain groups of victims to whom the law gives special treatment. So a person who is injured by a driver who is uninsured or untraced will be compensated by the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB). A victim of a crime of violence is compensated via the state funded Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. The client of a negligent Solicitor will always be compensated for losses as all solicitors have to be insured and cannot open their doors to the public if they aren’t.

But if there is one group that deserves special treatment it is the victims of asbestos. These men and women worked for years with a substance that was known to be a serious danger to life. They normally worked in relatively low paid sectors including shipbuilding and construction. Asbestos diseases can take many years to show themselves and so huge numbers of these workers approach retirement and discover that that the asbestos has caused a terrible illness which in many cases is fatal. It is a problem which is not going away in a hurry. It is predicted that many thousands will be affected in the next 10 – 20 years.

But there is a problem. In order to secure compensation for them and their families you have to sue companies who may have closed years ago and for whom there is no insurance. If there is no company or no insurance then there are no damages. It was hoped that this would change following recent announcements by the government of a safety net scheme along the lines of the MIB which would secure damages in these circumstances. But the scheme which has been revealed falls woefully short of what is needed.

The scheme provides for compensation to be paid to victims who are diagnosed with mesothelioma after 25th July 2012 but will not come into effect for two years. This guarantees that hardly anybody diagnosed now will ever see any damages. This is because the life expectancy of a mesothelioma victim is less that a year in most cases. The scheme also ignores other serious illnesses. Asbestosis kills people. Lung cancer kills people. Respiratory failure kills people. But the scheme is limited to victims of just one illness.

This failure to protect this group of workers is simply scandalous. The Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK rightly say – ‘We welcome this first move on untraced insurance but we are bitterly disappointed that the scheme doesn't cover 50% of asbestos victims who are excluded.’ -

Anyone who has contact with their elected representatives should lobby for this scheme to be extended to all victims. In the meantime lawyers will do all they can to ensure justice for victims in whatever way they can.

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