LONDON, August 17, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --
A £300m government scheme to fund compensation payments to newly-diagnosed victims of mesothelioma has been criticised for not going far enough in providing help to those who need it right now.
Bridget Collier, head of the Industrial Disease team at Fentons Personal Injury Solicitors LLP, was speaking after the Department for Work and Pensions announced the new scheme which will allow around 3,000 victims who are unable to claim compensation because they cannot trace a liable employer, to claim compensation from the fund over the coming ten years
"For more than a decade, campaigners have been calling for insurers to set up a 'fund of last resort' for those cases where someone develops an industrial disease but is unable to claim simply because their employer's insurance policy cannot be traced," said Bridget, a partner with Fentons Solicitors LLP. "Whilst the government has now announced something that resembles what was proposed, it doesn't go nearly far enough to assist the hundreds of people who need help right now."
Bridget, a senior litigator with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), said that the consultation process into a proposed Employers' Liability Insurers' Bureau, which would effectively be funded by insurers to enable those who are unable to trace their insurer to still receive the compensation they deserve, began under the previous government.
While the details of the new scheme are still yet to be fixed, Bridget remains unmoved by the celebratory tone of the DWP's announcement.
"The new scheme falls a long way short of what the proposed ELIB would have been," said Bridget, who for many years has seen first-hand the devastating impact of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. "What the government has announced is a good start, and I'm pleased that - for those who are diagnosed with mesothelioma on or after 25 July this year - there will be a scheme that pays compensation where an insurer cannot be traced," she said.
"But what concerns me is what help this is to those victims who were diagnosed before that date and cannot trace their employer's insurer. Is the government saying that their claim is not as valid or worthy, simply because they were diagnosed before - in some cases possibly just days before - an arbitrary date that this scheme was finally announced?
"Another concern is that the scheme is also only open to those who develop mesothelioma," said Bridget. "Mesothelioma is a particularly cruel and insidious disease, and while the scheme brings some hope of securing compensation to the thousands of people expected to be diagnosed in the coming 10 years, it also brings yet more heartache for those who are diagnosed with other asbestos-related diseases - such as lung cancer, asbestosis or pleural thickening - who are excluded."
She said there was simply no reason to prevent people with other asbestos-related diseases from being covered by the scheme. "The uncomfortable truth is that the prognosis for someone diagnosed with lung cancer is the same as for someone who is diagnosed with mesothelioma," she said. "If the insurance industry's own figures demonstrate that mesothelioma claims account for more than 90% of the total expense of asbestos-related claims, then why can they not extend the coverage of this new fund to that extra 10%?
"When campaigners called for an ELIB, the idea was that it would mirror the work of the Motor Insurers' Bureau - which acts as a fund of last resort for anyone injured or affected by the actions of any uninsured or untraced driver," said Bridget. "The MIB does not stipulate that a victim can only claim if they have been affected by a certain type of uninsured driver, or injured by someone driving a certain type of untraced vehicle. To set the qualification criteria for this new scheme so as to differentiate between - and squeeze out - groups who face a similarly painful future, seems to be at best unfairly disproportionate, at worst just cruel and thoughtless."
SOURCE Fentons Solicitors LLP