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Mesothelioma Bill: making progress

James_Dalton_blogThe Mesothelioma Bill receives its second reading in the House of Lords on 20 May 2013.  Let’s reflect on why this legislation is needed and how the insurance industry continues to do all it can to help those suffering from this terrible disease.

I’ll start with the problem the Bill is trying to address. Many years ago when the dangers of asbestos were not known or fully understood, a large number of employees were negligently exposed to asbestos during the course of their employment. 

Like many asbestos-related diseases, mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining of the lungs – does not manifest itself until many years after exposure. Mesothelioma is fatal and sufferers have an average life expectancy of two years after they are diagnosed.

In 1972, it became compulsory for employers to have employers’ liability insurance. At that time few insurers realised that there would be claims being made against their policies over forty years later, and many insurance records have been lost over the passage of time.

Many people have had real difficulties finding who their employer’s insurer was at the time that they were exposed to asbestos. To address this, the insurance industry decided to establish the Employers Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) in 2011.

ELTO helps anyone – not just mesothelioma sufferers – to trace their employer’s insurer at the time they were working at a particular company. There are now over eight million records on the ELTO database, 100 searches are carried out every day and successful tracing rates have increased significantly from 46% in 2010 to 71% in 2011/2012. This means that more people are getting the compensation they are entitled to and insurers now pay over £200m in support to mesothelioma sufferers each year.

But there is more that we can do. The Mesothelioma Bill, which forms part of a wider package of reform, will create a fund of last resort for those who are unable to trace an insurer against which to make a claim, despite having tried to do so via ELTO.

The new fund will be paid for by the insurance industry and will provide around £300m in support to 3000 claimants over the next 10 years. The scheme is set up in a sustainable way that will allow it to run for the next 40 years, or until untraced mesothelioma claims no longer arise.

The Government also has an important role to play. The Ministry of Justice will soon consult the public on a dedicated mesothelioma pre-action protocol to ensure more claims are settled without going to court, and on an electronic claims gateway to help people making claims and provide up to date information to sufferers and their families.

The Bill has raised a number of concerns which are important to address, including:

  • that only claimants diagnosed with mesothelioma after 25 July 2012 will be able to make a claim. That is an understandable concern but eligibility has to start somewhere and given that the scheme was announced on this date, there is a legitimate expectation on those diagnosed from then that they will receive support.
  • that everyone with mesothelioma should be able to make a claim from the scheme. This scheme is designed to provide support to those who contracted mesothelioma during the course of their employment and, given the compulsory nature of employers’ liability insurance, there is a reasonable expectation that there was insurance in place even though the records cannot be found.
  • opposition from lawyers to the idea of streamlining the process, avoiding going to court and fixing legal fees in mesothelioma cases. We believe it is time that the needs of mesothelioma sufferers were at the heart of the process. The proposed reforms will reduce the time taken for a mesothelioma claim from an average of two years down to a matter of months.

As the Bill moves through its Parliamentary stages, the insurance industry is continuing to deliver the work needed to make the support scheme a reality and get it up and running by July 2014. We are working on the governance and operational delivery of the scheme as well as working with the devolved administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh to make the scheme one from which sufferers can receive support, wherever they live in the UK.

We urge parliamentarians and interested stakeholders to support us in the delivery of the scheme and the other proposed reforms needed in the claims process, so that mesothelioma sufferers can benefit.

For more information on the Mesothelioma Bill visit the ABI's website.

Last updated 29/06/2016