Mesothelioma Claims - Justice Committee Contents

2  Mesothelioma: a special case?

9. Mesothelioma is a debilitating, painful and inexorable disease, and the life expectancy of sufferers following diagnosis is short, usually between 10 and 24 months.[13] In 2011 there were 2,291 deaths in Great Britain from mesothelioma, and the number of cases each year is expected to rise before peaking towards the end of this decade.[14] In their evidence to us the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (AVSGF UK) argued that mesothelioma was "the worst ever occupational-related health disaster: A Very Special Case".[15] The Government, while acknowledging the tragic nature of the disease, put forward in its consultation response the counter-argument that the LASPO reforms already applied to other very serious and life-changing cases.[16] In oral evidence Lord Faulks said that mesothelioma cases were special because of the short life expectancy involved and the consequent need to avoid delay in dealing with them, but he otherwise saw no conceptual difference between mesothelioma cases and other serious personal injury cases.[17]

10. Mesothelioma compensation claims are subject to a number of specific legislative provisions or litigation processes, including of course the initial exemption from Part 2 of LASPO. AVSGF UK in their written evidence enumerated a number of ways in which the treatment of mesothelioma cases differs from other personal injury cases, and they also highlighted statements by the Government and others recognizing the uniqueness of mesothelioma.[18] Mesothelioma claims are notably subject to a fast-track process in the courts, involving a specific Practice Direction and a Royal Courts of Justice specialist fast track list, described by Unison as "highly successful and efficient".[19] In addition, under the Compensation Act 2006, claimants in mesothelioma cases who have had more than one potentially liable employer are not required to trace them all: a claim for the full amount of damages need only be brought against one employer, who is then responsible for tracing other liable employers to obtain contributions from them. These arrangements do not apply in relation to other personal injury cases, including those involving other asbestos-induced diseases.

11. There is little dispute about the factual position in relation to existing statutory and non-statutory distinctions between mesothelioma claims and other cases. However, the two sides of the argument over the commencement of sections 44 and 46 draw different conclusions from this pattern of distinction. Opponents of the Government's decision, broadly comprising claimant lawyers and victims' representatives, including trades unions, conclude that the special treatment accorded to mesothelioma claims in various other respects strengthens the case for the LASPO exemption to be maintained. Supporters of the Government's decision, defendant lawyers and insurers, argue that the various ways in which mesothelioma claims are already subject to different treatment reduce the force of the case for maintaining another difference in the form of the LASPO exemption. Lord Faulks summarised this argument:

    most of the hurdles, legally speaking, have been eroded, quite rightly in most people's view, such as the difficulties in causation, which were substantial. The recent legislation has helped in terms of untraced employers. So, sadly, I am afraid I am still not satisfied that these cases are in a separate category.[20]

We note, however, that the issue of difficulties in causation is distinct from the issue of untraced employers.

13   Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (MSC0001) Back

14   Mesothelioma in Great Britain 2013, Health and Safety Executive. Back

15  Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (MSC0008) Back

16   Reforming mesothelioma claims: The Government response to consultation on proposals to speed up the settlement of mesothelioma claims in England and Wales, Ministry of Justice, 6 March 2014. Back

17   Qq 79-81 Back

18   Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK, (MSC0008), paras 9-18.  Back

19   Unison (MSC0018)  Back

20   Q 80  Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 1 August 2014