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Mesothelioma and asbestos

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer which kills around 2,400 people in the UK each year. It is usually caused by exposure to asbestos, which often occurs in the workplace. Insurers pay out £200 million a year to mesothelioma sufferers.

Asbestos is a material that was commonly used in the manufacturing and construction industries between the 1950s and the 1980s. People who worked in these industries during this time were regularly exposed to asbestos, inhaling asbestos dust and fibres over a prolonged period of time. It later emerged that the inhalation of asbestos was the main cause of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer which affects the lungs or the lining of the stomach. It is almost always fatal, with most sufferers dying within two years of diagnosis. There is currently no known cure for mesothelioma – treatment usually focuses on relieving a sufferer’s symptoms and improving their quality of life.

Mesothelioma sufferers can make compensation claims against the employer for whom they were working at the time they were exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma has a long latency period – that is the time between a person’s initial exposure to asbestos and the development of the disease – usually between 30 and 40 years. This can mean that the employer in question no longer exists. In such cases, the mesothelioma sufferer can submit a claim to their former employer's employers' liability insurer.   

The insurance industry is committed to helping people with mesothelioma and their families to get the support they need. The ABI is campaigning to reform the compensation process for mesothelioma sufferers. We are working with the Government and insurers to make the compensation process quicker and easier for mesothelioma sufferers through measures including:

Supporting medical research

Insurers have donated over £3 million over the last three years to the British Lung Foundation (BLF)’s research into a cure for mesothelioma.  

Raising awareness of asbestos exposure at work and in the home

Insurers have funded the BLF’s ‘Take five and stay alive’ campaign which raises awareness of dangers of asbestos exposure among those most at risk for example, DIY enthusiasts and tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians.

Reforming the legal system

The legal process for mesothelioma claims can be complex, lengthy and expensive. The insurance industry is campaigning for improved processes that will allow mesothelioma sufferers to settle their cases more quickly.

Tracing insurers and former employers

Mesothelioma sufferers may find it difficult to track down their former employer’s employers' liability insurer if the company has gone out of business. In April 2011 the insurance industry set up the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO) to help people find insurers if their former employer is no longer in business. The ELTO has a database of millions of insurance policies from all past and present employers' liability insurers. The service has made tracing policies considerably easier for mesothelioma sufferers.

Over the next few month the ABI and the ELTO will be introducing further improvements .These will include a committee to analyse claimants' evidence of the existence of their former employer's employers' liability policy in the absence of the policy itself.

Mesothelioma Support Scheme

In January 2014 the Government passed the Mesothelioma Act 2014 legislation to establish the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS). The scheme is funded by the insurance industry and will make payments to around 3,000 mesothelioma sufferers who cannot find an employer or insurer to claim from. Mesothelioma sufferers diagnosed after 25 July 2012 who are unable to trace an insurer or compensator are eligible to make a claim under the scheme. The first payments will be made in July 2014. A levy imposed on employers' liability insurers will fund the scheme at an estimated cost of £35 million a year. For more information see the DMPS website.  

Next steps

  • if you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma speak to a claimant lawyer about making a claim against your former employer
  • if your former employer has gone out of business, you may be able to track down their insurer through the Employers’ Liability Tracing Office (ELTO
  • go to the DMPS website for further information