Socialist Worker

Asbestos victims condemned to die in poverty

Issue No. 2000

Thousands of victims of an asbestos-related cancer and the families of those who have already died of the disease will not receive full compensation in the wake of a legal victory by insurers last week.

The move could cut compensation payouts by up to 90 percent.

The House of Lords upheld three test case appeals, effectively brought by company insurers. It was argued that damages should be limited in cases involving several ex-employers, where none could be specifically blamed for the onset of the fatal illness.

Harry McCluskey, secretary of Clydeside Action on Asbestos, branded the judgment “outrageous”.

“People dying from mesothelioma through past employers’ negligence will now have to be told by their solicitor their compensation may not be paid in full. It’s a disgrace. This judgment will condemn thousands of widows and families to poverty,” he said.

The leading test case involved Sylvia Barker, 58, from Flintshire, who was awarded £152,000 in the high court three years ago – though she has yet to receive a penny – over the death of her husband Vernon, 57, in 1996. He worked for several employers.

Sylvia’s damages will now be reassessed by the high court. She told Socialist Worker, “I’m angry that after these people took away Vernon’s life they are adding insult to injury. Why should the law save them paying for what they have done?”

Around 1,900 people die in Britain every year from mesothelioma.

Marjorie Catterall from Wigan told Socialist Worker how her steelworker husband, Thomas, died in 2004, aged 62, without ever seeing his first grandchild. “He hung on as long as he could but he never saw him. It is a terrible disease.

“My husband was killed in front of me. We are up against multi-national companies and global insurance companies but we are not giving up,” she said.

Anne Craig, from Hebburn in the north east of England, has campaigned for the victims of asbestos-related mesothelioma since her husband, Dave, died of the disease in February 2002. She told Socialist Worker “I am devastated by this decision. This ruling means that compensation to those who went to work and contracted a fatal disease will be cut, and that’s just appalling.

“It will mean people will have to pursue claims against several firms, some of which may no longer exist.”

Mary Murray, 84, from Sunderland, whose ship-builder husband John died in November 1999, told Socialist Worker, “I’ve had seven years of misery since John died a painful death from this terrible disease. Employers and insurance companies care more about the money than they do about being fair to people like me and my husband who suffered so much. Justice hasn’t been done.”

Mary Murray now faces the prospect of having her £45,000 damages award reduced.

According to Adrian Budgen, head of the industrial diseases group at Irwin Mitchell solicitors, which represents asbestos claimants, “This judgment punishes the cancer sufferer while saving money for the companies and their insurers.

“The benefit of the doubt is being given to companies that are guilty of negligence.”

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Sat 13 May 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2000
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