Government proposals to change the way people claim damages for a fatal work-related cancer are ‘unworkable and unfair’, according to lawyers.
The consultation ‘to speed up the settlement of mesothelioma claims in England and Wales’ closes tomorrow (2 October) and focuses on new legal procedures to improve the system for claiming for this asbestos-related cancer, which is always terminal, and where life expectancy after diagnosis is usually a matter of months.
But lawyers acting for cancer victims say the proposals are a missed opportunity. “What dying mesothelioma victims need from the legal process is a protocol which provides them with automatic interim payments; early admissions of liability from culpable defendants and easier access to medical, work and pensions records, “ said Karl Tonks, former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL). “Such changes would speed up the conduct of these cases and cut costs in the process.
“The proposal in the consultation to introduce a new protocol to settle more cases out of court sounds like a great idea in principle,” he said. “But taking cases to the specialist mesothelioma court is usually the only way to persuade defendants and their insurers to admit liability for causing the disease, and to get the claim settled quickly. It is also often the only way to obtain early interim payments to help provide some comfort for the victim in his final months, without having to wait for the case to end,” he added.
“We know from experience and from our own research that almost half of those lawyers asked said defendants admit liability in fewer than ten per cent of cases during the protocol already in place. Almost a quarter said defendants don’t admit liability at all within the protocol period.
“These were all cases which the mesothelioma victims won, so there was no valid reason why liability should not have been admitted in the first place,” Karl explained. “By ignoring the way defendants and insurers routinely behave and seeking to impose a new, more rigid system which just plays into their hands, the proposals condemn sick and dying victims to spend their last months in pointless legal wrangling.
“This consultation has clearly been informed by the insurance industry’s relentless agenda for cutting its own costs,” said Karl. “But the discussion is far from over and we will be doing everything we can to ensure people dying of this terrible disease are the real focus of any reforms.”