The government has rebuffed pleas from opposition MPs to keep mesothelioma claims exempt from changes to civil litigation reforms introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO).
Justice minister Shailesh Vara (pictured) said there was no reason why mesothelioma cases should be treated differently from other serious or catastrophic personal injury cases.
Claims linked to the asbestos-related disease were exempted from LASPO, which came into force in April and abolished the recoverability of success fees and after the event insurance premiums.
But the exemption was revoked in an announcement last month, paving the way for mesothelioma claims to fall into line with other cases from July this year.
Opposition MPs called a Westminster Hall debate this week to voice their concern at the plans, but the Ministry of Justice was unmoved by pleas for a change of heart.
Vara said last year’s consultation on mesothelioma had produced ‘little explanation’ of how LASPO would have a different or disproportionate effect on claimants’ access to justice. He emphasised the LASPO reforms were about tackling the high cost of civil litigation, rather than questioning the validity of claims.
‘Ultimately, in our view, there needs to be a specific justification for the continued difference in treatment between mesothelioma cases and other personal injury cases – most particularly, other serious personal injury cases that have their own tragic features,’ said Vara.
‘We entirely understand that mesothelioma victims face an appalling and fatal disease with which they and their families have to come to terms, while also having to engage with the claims process.
‘Without in any way seeking to minimise the distress that this entails, however, there are many other serious personal injury and fatal claims, to which the LASPO reforms already apply, that produce difficult challenges for victims and families.’
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter argued that there has not been a proper review of mesothelioma cases as promised.
‘This is a shameful betrayal of some of the most vulnerable victims of negligence by employers,’ said Slaughter.
‘Mesothelioma sufferers are condemned to a painful and sudden death often decades after coming into contact with asbestos, usually at work. After promising to treat them and their families sympathetically, the government has gone back on its word and is proposing to restrict their ability to claim compensation.’
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers joined calls to keep the exemption from LASPO.
APIL president Matthew Stockwell added: ‘If ever a claimant needed full compensation, it is surely the claimant facing a death sentence just because he turned up for work.’