Lawyers representing mesothelioma sufferers and their families are facing a challenge to victims’ continued right to compensation for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, in a hearing in the House of Lords due to start on Monday, 13 March.

Sylvia Barker and Mary Murray will face arguments that the law should be changed to stop them being compensated in full for losing their husbands to the fatal disease, because some of the companies responsible have vanished or were not insured.

If successful, the appeal, by successors of employers in the shipbuilding and steelmaking industries, could deprive thousands of claimants of their full entitlement to compensation for mesothelioma. The hearing in London between 13 – 15 March follows the defeat of insurers’ attempt to end compensation for mesothelioma in the Fairchild test cases in the House of Lords in 2002. The insurance industry is watching developments in the appeal which, if successful, could save insurers millions of pounds. 

The legal team representing the families includes the specialist law firms Thompsons Solicitors and John Pickering & Partners.

Full compensation needed for mesothelioma sufferers

Ian McFall, Head of Asbestos Litigation for Thompsons Solicitors, who act for Mrs. Murray, explains: "What we will be asking the Law Lords to do is simple - uphold the law which requires negligent employers and their insurers to pay full compensation to mesothelioma sufferers and their families. Anything less will be an injustice."

Mary Murray, 84, from Sunderland, Tyne & Wear comments: “I have had 7 years of misery since John died from this terrible disease. I would rather have him back any day and they could keep the money. But it was the employers’ fault he was taken away from me. I just think 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.”

Representing Mrs Barker, James Thompson from Pickering & Partners comments: “If these appeals succeed, mesothelioma sufferers and their families could be deprived of 50% or more of their compensation. Severe financial hardship would result from awards being slashed in many cases by tens of thousands of pounds, so that guilty employers and their insurers can save money.”

Sylvia Barker, 58, of Hollywell, Flintshire said: “I’m angry that after these people took away Vernon’s life, they are adding insult to injury. They admitted that they should have protected him from asbestos. Why should they get the law changed to save them paying for what they have done?”

Numbers of mesothelioma victims rising

The House of Lords will be asked to decide on a second, important issue in Mrs Barker’s case: whether compensation should be denied altogether when a mesothelioma sufferer was in contact with asbestos during a period of self-employment, even if, like Mrs Barker’s late husband, they were also exposed to asbestos in a different period as an employee. 

The important issues of law and policy in these cases will have far reaching implications for mesothelioma cases throughout the UK: 1,800 people die each year of mesothelioma and the numbers are rising. Many had contact with asbestos in more than one job. It is common for employers to have ceased trading, with no trace of their insurers. 

The majority of people diagnosed with mesothelioma were innocent employees who were exposed to asbestos at work without being warned of the dangers.

Thompsons have published updates to this story on 3rd May 2006 (see 'Lords slash asbestos compensation'), 13th June 2006 (see 'Thompsons calls for swift action after Prime Minister's announcement on asbestos') and 20th June 2006 (see 'Government shows real compassion, but must act for all victims, lawyers say').