Mesothelioma sufferers and their families should no longer have to endure a long and stressful waiting time for mesothelioma compensation following the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announcement on December 4th that it has decided not to go ahead with a proposed Mesothelioma Pre Action Protocol (MPAP) to control out-of-court settlements and instead, will now work with all parties to improve the existing process.

The announcement follows the government consultation, concluded in early October, on proposals intended to improve the speed and effectiveness of compensation recovery in cases where a liable employer or insurer is traced.

The recent changes to the mesothelioma claims process, which enable victims of asbestos exposure and their families improved access to justice and financial security, demonstrate a progressive response to asbestos awareness and understanding of the history and circumstances of mesothelioma claimants.

Mesothelioma compensation often subject to delays

In a written ministerial statement, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Shailesh Vara, said, “ Mesothelioma is a tragically aggressive and terminal occupational disease. It kills approximately 2,200 people in England and Wales each year, with sufferers having a median life expectancy of only 7 to 9 months from diagnosis. Yet claims for compensation for mesothelioma are often subject to delays and fraught with procedural and evidential difficulties, made all the more acute by the imminence of the claimant’s death.”

A most distressing aspect of asbestosis diseases has always been the gestation period of between 10 and 50 years from initial exposure and inhaling of asbestos fibres to the first appearance of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms. Invariably, a confirmed diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer is made at a late stage when the victim may only have a short life expectancy. In some cases, the victim passes away before any final financial settlement can be made for the remaining spouse, which can be prolonged for years afterwards.

According to the MoJ, the decision not to take forward a dedicated Mesothelioma Pre-Action Protocol supported by fixed recoverable costs was because there was not a strong enough case made that the process would meet the Government’s declared aim of “ensuring that mesothelioma compensation claims are settled quickly and fairly”, in particular, by comparison to other personal injuries.

MoJ hopes to still identify potentially valuable reforms

The key changes to the no-win no-fee mesothelioma claims process, which were set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 are to be addressed at the same time as the government proposes to apply the compulsory payment scheme for victims of mesothelioma under the Mesothelioma Bill in July 2014, subject to Royal Assent.

Under the Bill, introduced into Parliament in May 2013 by the Department for Work and Pensions, victims of mesothelioma who are unable to trace their liable employer or their employer’s insurer would be eligible to claim compensation. However, this will only apply to those diagnosed with mesothelioma after 25 July 2012 and while 3,500 previously excluded sufferers will now be eligible, only 75 per cent of average compensation levels are expected to be paid out.

The MoJ said it hopes to still identify “potentially valuable reforms to the mesothelioma claims process from the responses to the consultation” by working closely with interested parties and is to publish its response to the consultation and the report, shortly.