Solicitors and claims management companies (CMCs) acting in pleural plaques compensation cases should have their legal fees severely curtailed, the House of Lords heard last week.
In a debate on the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) Bill, Lord Henley, Baroness Quin and Lord Carswell called for a clampdown on legal fees paid under the government’s proposed extra-statutory compensation scheme, and on legal fees paid under any scheme that might arise if the bill is passed. The bill would supersede a House of Lords ruling in 2007 in which the law lords decided that compensation for asbestos-related pleural plaques, a thickening of the lungs, should not be available.
Lord Henley suggested that, in any scheme arising from the bill, lawyers should be forced to pay some of their fees towards asbestos-related cancer research.
The debate came shortly after the government announced an extra-statutory scheme to compensate individuals who lodged a pleural plaques compensation claim before the law lords ruling in 2007. Such claimants will be paid around £5,000.
Henley said of the government’s extra-statutory scheme: ‘I am sure that ministers… do not want to line the pockets of lawyers at the expense of the people suffering from pleural plaques… I am assuming that it will be relatively easy for a claimant under the scheme to present a claim and that they will not need advice to do so, but that will not stop aggressive marketing in the media and [on] the internet by claims farmers.’
Justice minister Lord Bach said that details of the government scheme will be announced shortly. Henley suggested that, in any scheme arising from the bill, claimants should not be able to recover legal costs as part of their damages award, and that legal costs should be fixed so that they ‘do not exceed a reasonable proportion of the compensation’. He suggested that the recovery of success fees, after-the-event insurance premiums, ‘membership organisation’ fees paid to unions, and referral fees paid to CMCs should be abolished in all pleural plaques claims, citing Lord Justice Jackson’s review of civil litigation costs.
Henley said successful claimants should have 50% of their damages deducted to fund research into asbestos-related cancer, or that contributions to research should be deducted from lawyers’ fees as part of their corporate social responsibility. ‘I raise this purely in a spirit of helpfulness, not in a spirit of knocking lawyers,’ he said.