LUNG cancer victims have been betrayed by a cynical Government deal with insurance companies, a parliamentary inquiry was told today yesterday (May 13).
Leading solicitors condemned a shake-up that will allow lawyers to swipe up to 25 per cent of damages payments to people diagnosed with mesothelioma.
In evidence to a committee of MPs, they said the changes would leave sufferers with the fatal, asbestos-triggered disease “significantly worse off”.
The solicitors said the threatened introduction of fixed costs would allow insurers to drag out legal cases, piling pressure on the terminally ill to agree lower settlements.
They also poured scorn on the idea that claimants could “shop around” for the best deal from a law firm – when, tragically, they had just months to live.
And they accused ministers of allowing insurance companies to call the shots, striking an “agreement behind closed doors”.
Ian McFall, of Thompsons Solicitors, which has offices in the North-East, said: “This will leave claimants significantly worse off.
“Some firms struggling for survival will look to take the maximum ‘success fee’, which will be to the disadvantage of claimants.
“The real agenda – and the actual outcome – is that this package of measures has been introduced as a way to deliver significant financial savings to the insurance industry.”
The controversy follows the end of “no win no fee” agreements, which guaranteed full compensation to successful claimants – and insured them against the cost of losing.
They were restricted in the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act, which has now been extended to mesothelioma cases.
The move was blocked in the Lords, but overturned by the Government, after a “review” widely attacked as sham – prompting the inquiry by the justice select committee.
Nearly 2,400 people, mostly men, die from mesothelioma every year, usually within nine months of diagnosis.
Asbestos was used in shipbuilding, construction and the automotive industry, exposing workers. Carpenters, joiners, plumbers and heating engineers are at particular risk.
A ‘standardised mortality ratio’ (SMR) is used to identify blackspots, where a figure of 100 would be the expected number of deaths, given the age of the population.
The figures are far, far higher in Hartlepool (240), Stockton-on-Tees (211), Sunderland (230), South Tyneside (317), Redcar and Cleveland (167) and Middlesbrough (140).
Ministers have insisted there is no “specific justification” for treating mesothelioma differently from other personal injury cases.
But Thompsons, which handles around 600 such cases at any one time, said the difference was that the disease is “incurable, inoperable and invariably fatal”.
Giving evidence later, Derek Adamson, of insurers DWF, denied firms deliberately delayed cases, insisted that increased their own costs.
And the Association of British Insurers argued there were support groups to help mesothelioma victims find lawyers and negotiate.