New support scheme for mesothelioma sufferers announced by the government.

On 25 July 2012, the government announced a new support scheme for mesothelioma sufferers newly diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma resulting from negligent exposure at work but who are unable to trace a liable employer or EL insurer.

The scheme

The government – the lead Department being Work & Pensions - states that the scheme will be funded by a levy on current EL insurers at an estimated cost of £25 to £35 million per year. As noted above, the scheme will provide support for those newly diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma as a result of negligent exposure at work but who are unable to trace a liable employer or EL insurer. It is understood that the scheme will not cover public liability claims.

The scheme is not yet in force and its implementation will require an Act of Parliament. However, the government stated that anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma from 25 July 2012 will be eligible to make a claim. The ABI’s Director General stated that he hoped the first payments would be made by July 2014.

Other matters

As well as the scheme, the government also announced other measures to be introduced including:

  • an online portal for all mesothelioma sufferers to register claims and for the parties involved to exchange information electronically

  • changes to the Civil Procedure Rules including the introduction of a Pre-Action Protocol specific to mesothelioma claims

  • improvements in providing information held by government including standardised medical diagnosis, HMRC employment schedules and information on state benefits from the DWP

  • that membership of the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) will become compulsory for all EL insurers.

Comment

Whilst the details have not yet been announced, it is hoped that the scheme will result in swifter support for mesothelioma sufferers delivered at lower costs than at present. This is particularly important given current mesothelioma trends. Professor Julian Peto’s research report Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risks in Britain published in March 2009 noted that the total number of mesothelioma deaths in Britain from the late 1960s to 2050 is predicted to be about 90,000, most of which are still to occur. The British mesothelioma death-rate is now the highest in the world, with 1740 deaths in men (1 in 40 of all male cancer deaths below age 80), and 316 in women in 2006.

Professor Peto’s report noted that the research implied that about 100 female cases per year and a similar number in men were caused either by environmental asbestos exposure or by unsuspected occasional or ambient exposure in occupational settings classified as ‘low risk’.

In addition, it must also been borne in mind that the government announcement refers to mesothelioma sufferers ‘negligently’ exposed to asbestos. There is no announcement of any change to the law governing liability in mesothelioma claims. The normal principles of common law and statutory duty continue to apply.

The announcement also indicated that the government intended to address legal costs in mesothelioma claims, as part of “wider reforms”. Although no details were provided.