Many of us work hard with the hope of enjoying a long, healthy retirement. However, for the many unfortunate people who were exposed to asbestos as part of their job that remains a distant dream.
We are lucky in this country to live in a society which respects the rights of individuals and looks after their needs. Since 1972 it has been compulsory for employers to take out employer’s liability insurance so that they are able to properly compensate you if you have an accident or become ill due to your employment. However, in reality getting money out of insurance companies is tough.
Employers have known about the damaging effects of asbestos for a long time. The Sunday Times ran a story in 1965 which highlighted the problems publicly for all to see, although it’s fair to say that the dangers of asbestos were becoming increasingly widely known even before the 1960s. However, not all employers heeded the warnings and changed their ways, and many continued to expose their staff on a daily basis. Whether you made brakes, worked in shipbuilding, or were involved in construction it made no difference – if asbestos fibres were present, you were at risk.
There are four main diseases resulting from exposure – pleural thickening, asbestosis, and the life threatening mesothelioma and lung cancer. All these diseases have long incubation periods with symptoms not showing for many years. If you worked for several employers doing similar jobs it can be hard to identify where the exposure may or may not have occurred. Employers come and go, and many of companies are no longer in existence. However, whilst employers may be more transient, insurance companies tend to stand the test of time. Your employer should have been insured and, even if the employer has gone out of business, his insurer should either still exist, or will have passed its responsibilities onto another insurer.
Some of these insurers escape their liabilities. They have collected the premiums but don’t pay out on the policies. Many records have been lost or destroyed, making it difficult to trace the insurer responsible. A tracing organisation has been set up to assist, but it is not foolproof as it will only help people with future claims, not people with historic cases which relate to policies taken out years ago. If you can’t identify the insurer, you cannot get compensation – unfortunately this is too often the case. Companies which are now defunct have to be temporarily resurrected before a claim can be pursued. Lawyers fight tooth and nail for these people whose lives have been ruined, but cases are extremely hard fought by insurers. It’s complicated.
We believe strongly that all sufferers of asbestos related diseases should receive the appropriate level of compensation. It should not be a lottery as to whether the insurer can be traced or not. These premiums have been paid. We call upon the Government to require the insurance industry to sort out its own mess and set up a fund for those sufferers where the insurer cannot be traced. This is serious. No mesothelioma sufferer should have to die in silence, without the compensation he needs to provide some comfort in the last days of his life, or the means to provide for his family after his death, because the insurance industry shirks its responsibilities. What is insurance for if not to compensate those diseased and dying as a result of a hard day’s work?