ASBESTOS victims in South Tyneside will be “robbed” of compensation under new legislation, campaigners warned today.
Under the new Mesothelioma Bill, victims of asbestos unable to trace employers who exposed them to the deadly dust will only be able to claim 75 per cent of the total compensation available through a successful civil court claim.
But Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn and fellow asbestos campaigners believe victims should receive 100 per cent compensation payments for the incurable disease, mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos fibres.
Ex-shipyard worker Bob Cusworth, 76, of Ribble Walk, Jarrow, who received £5,000 compensation for the asbestos-linked lung condition pleural plaques, has attacked the terms of the new Mesothelioma Bill, which went through the report stage in Parliament this week and is set to become law, following Royal Assent.
Mr Cusworth, who has long campaigned for full compensation for asbestos sufferers, said: “Personally, I think it’s a disgrace that victims will only receive 75 per cent compensation.
“People are being robbed of their full compensation and I think it’s totally wrong that people aren’t receiving it in full.”
Speaking during a recent parliamentary debate on the Mesothelioma Bill, Mr Hepburn said: “The Bill falls short of what we intended when we issued our consultation document.
“It falls short in regard to the cut-off time – in its present form, it will deny compensation to thousands of mesothelioma victims and save the insurance companies millions – and it falls short in regard to the payments, which will be 75 per cent of the average payment made following a civil claim. I think the proportion should be 100 per cent, and that insurance companies should be fined a further 25 per cent for ignoring their responsibilities over the years.”
Mr Hepburn also highlighted the case of the late Terry Smith, former secretary of the Iona Club, Hebburn, who died late last year after a two-year battle with mesothelioma.
“Terry has now become part of a statistic. Every week, three people in the North East die of mesothelioma. What most of those people have in common is that they are working-class people and were employed by a negligent employer.”
Matthew Stockwell, president of the not-for-profit campaign group, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), also blasted the terms of the Mesothelioma Bill.
He said: “Under the scheme, mesothelioma victims will receive only 75 per cent of the amount they would receive if they had been able to have their day in court.
“It is bad enough that victims are exposed to deadly asbestos just by turning up for work, then forced to use this scheme because insurance records are no longer around.
“Now they are penalised by losing a quarter of what the courts determine is fair redress.”
Ian McFall, head of national asbestos litigation at Newcastle-based Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The Bill will benefit a number of mesothelioma sufferers, but it could have been so much better, if the Government had supported a small number of modest, cross-party amendments, including one to make payments of 80 per cent.
“These changes would have made very little difference to the insurance industry, but would have made a big difference to individuals and their families.”