A legal loophole means that many ex-service personnel now suffering with mesothelioma from asbestos exposure will miss out on receiving compensation.
Many of those working in the Royal Navy were exposed to asbestos during time spent on shipbuilding sites – asbestos was used extensively in shipbuilding up until the 1980s. It's anticipated that, by 2050, around 2,500 ex-servicemen will have died from mesothelioma.
Lump Sum Payments Restricted for Many
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer – the average person survives around 12 months after diagnosis – which is why lump sum payments are important.
Helen Grady, Partner and Industrial Disease Solicitor at Simpson Millar, explains:
"All of my clients diagnosed with mesothelioma receive a Government Lump Sum; however, the rules are different for those whose mesothelioma is a result of exposure to asbestos whilst they were in the Royal Navy. This is a great pity as the lump sum payments are of a huge importance to sufferers and their families My clients use their lump sum, which usually comes through within a few weeks of diagnosis, to plan a holiday, pay off any debts, or to purchase any aids or equipment which may not be available on the NHS, such as a new bed or upright chair. Of course, some diagnosed with mesothelioma are still in work but now have the stop or scale back on their work due to their diagnosis and possible chemotherapy and so the lump sum payment certainly takes away some financial pressures."
"Clearly a lump sum payment is of huge importance to mesothelioma sufferers."
The rules were changed in December 2015 to allow veterans with mesothelioma to receive a lump sum payment as opposed to a monthly pension. But, the catch is that it is only available to servicemen who have been diagnosed on or after 16 December 2015.
"It is a great pity that the law has changed such that only those diagnosed since December last year may be entitled to the lump sum. The very same thing happened with the new Government Mesothelioma Payment Scheme, whereby only those who were diagnosed after 25 July 2012 could claim through this scheme if their past employers did not have any insurance cover. This upset many of my clients, as many were diagnosed shortly before the cut-off date and it seemed so harsh and cruel on top of the suffering they had already endured. Even a reduced lump sum payment from say July 2010 to July 2012 would have eased this sense of unfairness."
Unfairly Disadvantaged Compared to Civil Claimants
It also must be remembered that ex-service personnel are already at a disadvantage. "Crown Immunity" – the rule which prevented service personnel from making a claim against the Ministry of Defence, was removed in 1987 with the Crown Proceedings Act. This means that only those exposed to asbestos after 1987 can make a civil industrial disease claim.
"It would be unusual to be exposed to asbestos dust whilst serving in the Navy during the late 1980’s. I have come across cases of late wrongful exposures to asbestos dust, however, the vast majority of exposures whilst serving in the Navy were during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s."
"The current situation for veterans is clearly unfair and should be on a par with the Government Lump Sum payments for civilians and everyone else who is diagnosed with mesothelioma."
Calls for the Rules to Change
The MP for Blaydon, Dave Anderson has led a campaign requesting these rules to change. The letter said:
"We request that all qualifying veterans be treated equally, regardless of the date of their diagnosis with mesothelioma, as is morally required under the Armed Forces Covenant. We also request that the acquisition of equal treatment for both veterans and their widows/families, be pursued by ministers with all due haste, because people are dying."
Simpson Millar's Gateshead Office
Our specialist Mesothelioma Solicitors are on hand to offer legal advice from our well established team based in Gateshead. We support many people who have been left suffering with asbestos related illnesses who became ill from working at popular shipyard sites like the Tyne or from exposure to asbestos dust in many other places of employment. A lot of our cases are for the family members of the dockyard worker who had exposure from laundering contaminated overalls, or simply hugging their loved ones.
It is also certainly the case that many people who have a smoking history and contract lung cancer always automatically and wrongly assume that their lung cancer is caused through smoking, however, this is not always the case and legal advice should be sought. Legal advice should also be sought for those veterans who have also suffered exposure in other places of employment before or after joining the Royal Navy.
If you have been diagnosed, or have lost a loved one to mesothelioma, lung cancer, or any other asbestos illness after being exposed to asbestos at work, we're happy to answer any questions you may have and to advise on whether you can make a claim.
For any further advice on the changes affecting veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma you can also contact the Welfare Officer at the Veterans Agency on 0141 224 2709.