The New Belgian Asbestos Fund
Pressured by vociferous demands within Belgian society to address the claims of Belgian asbestos occupational and non-occupational victims, who in practice have little access to the civil courts, the Belgian government has created a special department to deal with asbestos claims. Organized within the already existing Belgian Fund for Occupational Diseases, this new department, aptly named the Asbestos Fund (AFA), processes asbestos victims' claims and allocates them compensation according to the nature of their claim. The AFA opened its doors as of April 1, 2007.
To some extent, the creation of the AFA is a great improvement, as this allows a much broader range of asbestos victims to be recognized as such and to receive compensation for their suffering. On the other hand, instead of easing their difficult road to compensation by means of civil litigation, it has rather cut off this road by broadening the civil immunity of employers. Also, the rates of compensation are relatively low, considerably lower in fact than any compensation that would be awarded by a civil court. Not all asbestos victims are accepted as such, either; lung cancer victims for instance are excluded, as their disease is considered not to be mono-causally linked to asbestos exposure. Last but not least, one wonders whether rerouting asbestos victims into the doors of the AFA rather than into an accelerated court system serves to withdraw them from the public eye much the same as happens in the Netherlands with regard to the Dutch Institute for Asbestos Victims.
Considering that as yet little has been published either about or by the Belgian Asbestos Fund, the following will provide more information on the Asbestos Fund. It is directly derived from its website and has been translated into the English language. Application forms may be directly downloaded from its website.
Contact information for the Belgian Fund for Occupational Diseases / Asbestos Fund Department:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Who may apply for compensation ? In principle, everyone, whether one is a civil servant, self-employed, employee or out of work. But there are some criteria which must be met. Evidently one should be sick due to asbestos exposure, but there are other criteria also, for which we refer to the next question.
2. Which criteria should be met in order to receive compensation from the AFA ? The AFA pays compensation to victims of mesothelioma and/or asbestosis. With regard to both diseases, evidence must be shown that the asbestos exposure occurred in Belgium. There are additional exposure criteria with regard to asbestosis.
3. Who is entitled to compensation after the decease of the asbestos victim ? The surviving spouse; the surviving spouse who is divorced but still receives alimony on the death of the asbestos victim; the children who are entitled to children's allowance at the time when their parent (a recognized asbestos victim by the AFA) dies .
4. What about the diseases for which the Asbestos Fund does not offer compensation ? Persons who have been exposed to asbestos may also contract other diseases, such as lung cancer, laryngeal cancer and pleural plaques. With regard to lung cancer and laryngeal cancer, these diseases may have been caused by other agents than or besides asbestos. Consider smoking for instance, which is the major cause of lung cancer. The scope of the AFA excludes these victims, as it only acts for asbestos victims whose suffering has clearly and only been caused by asbestos exposure. However, civil servants and employees from the private sector who have contracted such diseases as a result of asbestos exposure, may apply to the Fund for Occupational Diseases (FOD) for compensation. They should be aware that they must meet some very strict criteria. For instance, pleural plaques is a result of asbestos exposure. But it is insufficient for establishing even a degree of labour incapacity. It is not even really a disease as it does not lead to labour incapacity nor requires any medical treatment.
5. How should I apply for compensation ? On this website you'll find an application form from the AFA. You fill in the administrative part as best you can. You should let your doctor fill the medical part. Then either you or your doctor should send it to the Asbestos Fund, Sterrekundelaan 1, 1210 Brussels, Belgium.
6. Where may I find the form for the claimants who wish to apply for compensation after the decease of the victim ? This form is not yet available. But for the moment you can make use of the 340N Application Form for Compensation of Occupational Disease and make clear that you intend the form to be directed to the AFA.
7. What happens after I have put in my application ? Normally you will receive a confirmation of your application within 15 days. This means that your application will be researched and that you need not undertake any further measures yourself, as long as we do not ask you to. Should there be anything that needs clarification or if further research should be necessary, then you will be informed of this in writing. The final decision will be conveyed to you in writing also.
8. When my application is approved, how much will my compensation amount to ? Victims of mesothelioma receive a fixed monthly benefit of €1,500 to which they are entitled from the date of their application. Claimant heirs are, in case of decease, entitled to a fixed amount (lump sum). For instance the surviving spouse will receive €30,000 and every child who is entitled to children's benefit, a lump sum of €25,000. For asbestosis, the amount of benefit is dependent on the loss of physical capabilities of the victim (€15,- for every percent loss of physical capabilities). In this case a widow would be entitled to an amount of €15,000 and the dependent children to €12,500. So it is possible that multiple claimants receive lump sums due to one family member who died of asbestos exposure.
9.Are the compensations tax-free ? Yes, all the benefits/compensations paid out by the AFA are tax-free.
10. How do I receive such a compensation ? Once your application is accepted, you will receive the relevant compensation quite soon. You may choose between two possibilities: either a cashable check or payment directly into your bank account.
11. I already receive a benefit from the Fund for Occupational Diseases, either for asbestosis or mesothelioma. Can I also get a benefit from the AFA ? Yes. Everyone who receives compensation because of mesothelioma from the FOD will automatically also be investigated by the AFA. So any such persons need not apply (again). Anyone who receives a positive decision from the FOD after 1 January 2001, will have his or her claim for AFA compensation investigated automatically. Anyone who was recognized as an asbestosis victim before this date, should apply again to have his case investigated by the AFA. Anyone who does this before 1 January 2010 and has his application accepted, will be paid retrospectively from 1 April 2007.
Take notice ! Asbestosis victims who already receive a compensation from the FOD, will receive a decreased benefit from the Asbestos Fund. In case of cumulative entitlement with regard to asbestosis, each [presumably of two] entitlement for one and the same disease is decreased by 50%.
12. In the past, I applied for a benefit from the FOD for asbestosis or mesothelioma, but that was turned down. Am I still entitled to apply to the AFA ? Yes. It is possible that your application was initially rejected for reasons which may be related to the occupational diseases legislation, but are not related to the legislation concerning the Asbestos Fund.
13. My partner/parent died before 1 April 2007 due to asbestosis or mesothelioma. Am I still entitled to compensation from the AFA ? No. As the Asbestos Fund was only enacted from 1 April 2007, only claimants whose (ex-)partner or parent died after this date may apply for such a compensation.
14. My partner/parent died before 1 April 2007 due to asbestosis or mesothelioma, but we never applied before. Am I still entitled to compensation ? Yes. Even if one has never before applied to the FOD, it is still possible for claimants (dependent children/widows/widowers/ex-partners who enjoy alimony) to receive a compensation due to a decease as a result of mesothelioma or asbestosis. However, this application should be supplied to the Asbestos Fund no later than six months after the decease of the victim.
15. To whom should I turn for more information ? You may reach us at one of the following telephone numbers: 0032-2-226.63.16 or 0032-2-226.67.35. You may also send us an e-mail at: email@example.com .Apart from this, your sick fund may supply you with more information, for instance by helping you get a form or filling it in.
16. Where may I find all the regulations concerning the Asbestos Fund ? The actual name of the Asbestos Fund is the Indemnification Fund for Asbestos Victims. It is managed by the Fund for Occupation Diseases (FOD). You will find more information about this FOD on its website, including all the basic legislation relating to it.
The Asbestos Fund itself exists due to the law of 27 December 2006 (Belgium Government Gazette of 28 December 2006). On 29 May 2007a royal decree to execute this law was published.
17. What should I do if I do not agree with the decision of the AFA ? If you do not agree with its decision, then you need to present a written petition to the registry of your local or competent Belgian labour court. (The AFA provides a detailed list of all the Belgian labour courts and their contact details on its website.)The FOD should be listed as the opposing party, as the AFA is part of this institute.
July 9, 2007