Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease can take forty to fifty years to develop after an individual has been exposed. As a result, claimants can face significant difficulties trying to find the correct defendant to sue for damages as companies become insolvent.
The Department of Work and Pensions, however, recently announced that under the Mesothelioma Act 2014, individuals who are unable to trace their previous employers or insurers will soon be able to apply for compensation packages worth an average of £123,000. Claimants will need to show that they were negligently exposed to asbestos at work and are unable to trace their employer or insurer. This scheme is scheduled to come into force in July 2014, and ministers believe that this legislation will end years of injustice.
A further step in the right direction is the Court of Appeal case of Monica Haxton v Phillips Electronics UK Ltd. In this case, the claimant’s husband had been negligently exposed to asbestos during his employment with Philips Electronics UK Ltd. The claimant’s husband contracted mesothelioma and later passed away. Unfortunately, the claimant also developed mesothelioma as a result of washing her husband’s contaminated work clothes.
The claimant issued two separate claims against the same defendant. The first set of proceedings was issued in the claimant’s capacity as a widow and administratrix of her late husband’s estate. Damages were claimed on behalf of the estate under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934; and also as a dependant under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. This claim was settled by consent, and damages for the claimant’s loss of dependency were calculated on the basis of her life expectancy, which was significantly reduced due to her own diagnosis of mesothelioma.
The claimant also issued proceedings in her own right, seeking damages for negligence and breach of statutory duty. Liability was admitted and damages agreed with the exception of the claimant’s future dependency claim. The claimant argued that but for the defendant’s negligence, her life expectancy would not have been cut short and the assessment of her dependency claim in the first action would have been considerably higher. The High Court rejected this argument and the claimant appealed.
The Court of Appeal held that it was reasonably foreseeable that ‘a curtailment of life may lead to a diminution in the value of a litigation claim, and if a claimant had such a claim, the wrongdoer must take the victim as he finds him.’
There is no amount of damages that can fully compensate claimants in such cases. However, both the Mesothelioma Act 2014 together with the Court of Appeal’s decision in Haxton, are steps in the right direction for those claimants who have been affected by mesothelioma.
The case of Haxton will ensure that future claimants and their families will receive the full amount of compensation available to them.