Victory for asbestos exposure victims as decision to deduct legal fees from damages overruled

Forcing people dying of asbestos exposure to use a quarter of their damages to cover legal fees is unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

The Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum UK brought the action against Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

They contested Mr Grayling’s decision to allow 25% deductions from the damages awarded to mesothelioma sufferers to be used to pay legal costs and insurance premiums.

The case was heard by the Honourable Mr Justice William Davis, who ruled in favour of victims of mesothelioma – an aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Chair of the support group’s Manchester branch Tony Whitston said: “We see this judgement as an opportunity to take a new approach based on justice for victims of big financial institutions.

“The old plans were rooted in a culture of secret deals with insurers and flawed consultations which excluded the victims of asbestos. Now is the time for a change.”

The fight for the decision to be overturned began after it was revealed the government signed a secret Heads of Agreement with the Association of British Insurers to reform mesothelioma claims.

In 2013, Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) moved the responsibility of legal costs from the losing party to the person making the claim.

Mesothelioma sufferers were exempt from the new rules until the full review of the implications on this group of claimants.

The review led to the signing of the secret agreement, which contained the commitment to increase the legal costs for sufferers in mesothelioma cases.

Mr Whitston advocated for open dialogue and change as essential means to bring about necessary progress.

He said: “We need a new approach based on prioritising policies that help victims and their families.

“A proper review is needed, one based upon evidence of the likely consequences of making these change.

“It is time we had an open and transparent debate about an agenda for justice not another shabby deal done in the dark.”

Mesothelioma attacks the pleura – a membrane that covers the lungs – making it incapable of performing its vital function. 

Life expectancy is limited to only nine months after diagnoses.

Marie Hughes, a member of the victims’support group, lost her 57-year-old husband to mesothelioma.

She said: “He had done no wrong, not behaved irresponsibly nor recklessly, committed no crime. 

“He had simply performed an honest day’s work. The dangers of asbestos were known by employers at the time.  Legislation was in place. Injury and disease could and should have been prevented.

“The Government has a moral obligation to conduct an unbiased, comprehensive and measured review when sufficient time has elapsed for the effects of the LASPO Act to be assessed.

“We are hopeful that this will now happen resulting in a fairer outcome for today’s and sadly tomorrow’s mesothelioma victims.”

Related Articles