Government proposals to change the way people claim damages for mesothelioma are ‘unworkable and unfair’, according to Karl Tonks, former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).
A consultation on how to speed up the settlement of mesothelioma claims in England and Wales which closed on 2 October, focuses on new legal procedures to improve the system for claiming for the asbestos-related cancer.
But Tonks says that the consultation has clearly been informed by the insurance industry’s "relentless agenda" for cutting its own costs.
He said that the proposal in the consultation to introduce a new protocol to settle more cases out of court sounded like a great idea in principle, but ignored the fact that taking cases to the specialist mesothelioma court was usually the only way to persuade defendants and their insurers to admit liability for causing the disease, and so to get the claim settled quickly.
In addition, he said, it was also often the only way to obtain early interim payments to help provide some comfort for the victim in his or her final months, given the short life expectancy of victims following diagnosis.
“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 Tonks. “Such changes would speed up the conduct of these cases and cut costs in the process.
“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,” said Tonks. “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 wrangling with the very people who have caused their illnesses.
"Where is the fairness in that?”