Small Change: British Insurers and Mesothelioma
For decades, Britain PLC did everything possible to avoid paying compensation to asbestos victims. They used methods, both legal and extra-legal, to stall judicial proceedings, discredit critics, prevent legislation and develop avoidance strategies. Their efforts succeeded in creating a climate in which asbestos litigation failed to flourish. Even as the number of U.S. cases was increasing, British sufferers of asbestos-related diseases remained reluctant to sue.
In a 1994 US doctoral dissertation (Constructing law: Comparing legal action in the United States and United Kingdom by T. E. Durkin, 1994), the author found that there was a vast pool of uncompensated asbestos victims in the UK. Up until the end of 1986, the ratio of asbestos-related civil actions in the UK compared to the US was 1:5 even though there were proportionally nearly four times as many cases of mesothelioma in the UK.1
In light of the fact that hundreds of millions of pounds of compensation have been retained by negligent companies and their insurers, it is really hard to view as anything other than window dressing attempts to rehabilitate the insurance industry's reputation by highly publicized initiatives that are, at best, ineffective and, at worst, insulting. In 2010, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) announced that £3 million would be provided by insurers for research into asbestos-related diseases. Although this funding was no doubt welcomed, the sum provided was in no way commensurate with the asbestos savings the insurers have enjoyed through successful manoeuvres such as ending pleural plaques payments in England. Had the donation made been an annual allowance of £5m, British researchers might have led the way in the search for a mesothelioma cure.
This year (2013), the ABI affirmed the insurance industry's commitment to helping people with mesothelioma and their families to get the support they need. 2 This commitment was evidenced by support for the Employers' Liability Tracing Office (ELTO), a voluntary scheme which failed 39% of mesothelioma victims (2,059 out of 5,274 applicants) in 2012.3
Commenting on this Summer's publication of the ELTO Annual Report and Accounts 2012, Hugh Robertson, head of safety at the Trades Union Congress, said:
The TUC has been campaigning for better tracing for many years as every time an insurer cannot be traced a victim is denied compensation. The ELTO annual report may claim that the scheme that the insurers have set up is working but the figures show otherwise Clearly there is a need for a statutory system that is taken out of the control of the vested interests of the insurance industry.4
There is no doubt that thousands of asbestos cancer sufferers would agree with Mr. Robertson.
August 8, 2013
2 Mesothelioma and asbestos ABI. May 8, 2013.
3 ELTO Annual Report and Accounts 2012.