(Created October 2009; updated May 2018)
Procedures for paying compensation for asbestos-related diseases vary from country to country and often from state to state. In some jurisdictions, government schemes are the only source of financial recompense, in others civil litigation is the prime remedy. Mixed systems exist in some nations which allow claimants to opt for state benefits or sue former employers, manufacturers or suppliers for negligence. Unfortunately there are countries where neither state nor corporate compensation is paid for asbestos-related disease [Recent Developments Affecting European Compensation Claims, Asbestos Compensation in Europe, Belgian Asbestos Fund, The Asbestos Relief Trust].
Many asbestos victims believe that state-backed funds, such as the one in Switzerland (SUVA), are set up primarily as a way of insulating companies from the bad publicity attracted by lawsuits from dying employees [Swiss Blood Money: Too Little to Stem the Tide, International Asbestos Conference for Fair and Equal Compensation for all Asbestos Victims and their Families].
Obtaining financial redress through the courts for asbestos-related illness is notoriously complex due to protracted latency periods, inaccurate diagnoses, multiple employers and the destruction of crucial documentation. Despite these difficulties, in recent years courts in several countries have reported a huge increase in the number of cases being brought [Mesothelioma Report, Australia: Escalation in Asbestos Litigation, Asbestos litigation in the U.S., Victory for Brazil's Asbestos Victims, Landmark Victories for Asbestos-Injured, Asbestos Litigation in Spain, Argentinean Asbestos Lawsuit in the U.S., Asbestos Pigeons Coming Home to Roost]. Successful outcomes have also been achieved in cases involving “de minimus” or low level asbestos exposures [Righteous Decision for UK Mesothelioma Victims].
Compensation for asbestos-related diseases contracted through occupational exposure is the most widely available; relatively few victims of environmental exposure have succeeded in obtaining compensation for their injuries. A Dutch Government Scheme was the first one to make a lump sum payment to all mesothelioma sufferers, regardless of the source of their exposure. In 2008, the UK Government began a scheme which paid compensation to anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma regardless of the source of their UK exposure [A Helping Hand for Asbestos Victims]. Compensation for asbestos-related lung cancer is extremely rare.
In virtually every jurisdiction where compensation is payable for asbestos-related diseases, asbestos victims and their legal representatives have spent years fighting to change laws and procedures which prevented claims being brought. For decades, national governments were able to evade liability for damage done by their failures to act on the asbestos hazard; in landmark legal cases, the UK and Japanese governments were found liable for their negligence [Round 3: Another Victory for Dock Workers, First Asbestos Claim Brought against the Dutch Government, Historic Asbestos Ruling by Japanese Supreme Court].
Negligent corporations have developed innovative strategies to avoid their asbestos-related liabilities [Litigation-Driven Research – Deposition of Georgia Pacific Executive]. When Australia's major asbestos defendant, James Hardie, relocated to the Netherlands, asbestos victims' groups and trade unions instigated a major campaign to expose the corporation's duplicitous behavior [Prosecution of James Hardie, James Hardie Condemned!, James Hardie on the Run Again].
In the UK, the Forum of Asbestos Victims Support Groups (the Forum) lead efforts to publicize the potential impact on asbestos victims of plans by T&N Ltd., formerly the UK's Asbestos Giant, to reorganize its financial affairs [Turner & Newall Asbestos Victims Speak Out!, T&N's Insurance Loopholes Explored!, Landmark Demonstration Against Pleural Plaques Ruling]. Actions by the Forum have been pivotal in securing higher compensation awards for increasing numbers of UK claimants [Achieving Justice for Mesothelioma Sufferers].
Overall, campaigning by civil society activists, including asbestos victims, trade unionists, non-governmental organizations, health and safety campaigners and others, has succeeded in greatly improving access to compensation for asbestos victims; see:
In April, 2018, a legal precedent was set when a New Jersey jury found that long-term exposure to asbestos-contaminated baby powder had resulted in the mesothelioma contracted by a 46-year old man [Toxic Talc and Mesothelioma]. The evidence presented and the final outcome of this case will be closely studied not only by US lawyers but by others around the world.
Updated May 2018