UK Politics

Mesothelioma asbestos victims to get £350m compensation

Chest X-ray
Image caption Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that can take decades to develop

Victims of mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, will be able to claim far larger compensation under a new fund.

Thousands of sufferers and their dependants will be able to get damages from a £350m pot over the next decade.

Those diagnosed after 25 July 2012 and who cannot sue former employers as they have gone bust or insurance details have disappeared will be eligible.

Ministers said it was a "major breakthrough" to "end an injustice".

Mesothelioma is a fatal disease with average survival rates of about nine months after diagnosis.

It is most prevalent among those who worked in industries with heavy exposure to asbestos up to the 1980s, including construction, shipbuilding, engineering and power generation.

About 2,400 people die every year of the disease and numbers are set to increase over the next 30 years, with an estimated death toll of between 56,000 and 63,000.

While some people have taken legal action to recover damages, many are deterred because of the stress involved. The speed with which the disease takes hold means many die before their cases are heard.

'Peak in cases'

Victims and their families have, up to now, been able to claim damages under two pieces of legislation but the sums paid have not generally exceeded £20,000.

Under the proposed new fund, which must receive parliamentary approval, UK claimants will be entitled to 75% of the average settlement paid out in civil actions relating to mesothelioma, expected to be about £115,000.

Claimants will have to demonstrate that they were negligently exposed to asbestos at work and are unable to claim compensation because they cannot track down a liable employer or insurer.

"This scheme represents a major breakthrough for the many victims of this terrible disease, who have been failed by successive governments and the insurance industry for decades," said Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning.

"It will end an injustice that has left many tragic victims and their families high and dry.

"The aggressive and terminal nature of this disease, coupled with the fact we're approaching a peak in cases in the coming years, makes it imperative that we get this legislation in place as soon as possible," he added.

'Cut-off point'

According to government calculations, 900 people are likely to qualify for support in 2014, with a further 300 expected to get assistance in each of the following nine years.

If the Mesothelioma Bill currently before Parliament is passed in the next few months, it is hoped the first payments will be made next July.

There has been anger that ministers have proposed a cut-off point for claims and that those diagnosed before 25 July last year, when the scheme was first announced, will not be eligible.

Officials have defended the move, saying that an open-ended commitment to compensate all those afflicted by the disease would simply not be affordable.

Those suffering from other asbestos-related conditions, such as asbestosis, will also not be eligible.

One campaign group said the proposals were a "drastic improvement" on the current support available.

But it said the cut-off point seemed "arbitrary and harsh" and some victims felt it was unfair that they were not able to claim 100% of the value of a civil settlement.

Mesothelioma often takes 40 to 50 years to manifest itself after exposure and most of those being diagnosed are males in their 60s and older.

The scheme will be paid for by the insurance industry. All insurers will have to register on a voluntary database established in 2011 listing employers' liability insurance policies, both current and historic.

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