Asbestos cancer in women is a killer and leaves many families and victims without justice nor the benefits they so vitally need.
Howard Bonnett reports on a disturbing trend which shows that female asbestos victims are losing out on the benefits and compensation they deserve. We also ask – what can we do to put this right?
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Asbestos cancer and women -What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung (the pleura) although it is known to attack other linings (membranes) in the stomach or the heart.
Mesothelioma is a cancer clearly associated with exposure to asbestos. Indeed over 98% of cases are where there is a clear asbestos-related working, domestic or environmental history.
Asbestos Cancer and Women -Facts and Figures
Mesothelioma has been causing the deaths of over 2000 people a year for over the last 20 years. These statistics show that most of the victims in the 1970’s to the turn of this century were men. However in recent years there has been an increasing trend with the latest HSE figures from 2016 confirming that there was 2197 male deaths and 398 female deaths due to this cancer.
This means that 16% or that 1 in 6 victims are female.
This has been reflected in the years from 2011 onwards. It is a pattern that is not changing and is not going to improve.
A link to the October 2018 article is here http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/asbestos-related-disease.pdf
Asbestos cancer and women -the future
The annual numbers of women suffering with mesothelioma is showing no sign of tailing off. Experts have been telling asbestos disease lawyers for years that the peak for asbestos disease would have passed. Currently the expected peak year is 2020. Thereafter it is expected out that there will be a very slow decline with a gradual reduction in the numbers of asbestos victims year-on-year.
It is expected that of the remaining rump of victims an increasing number will be female.
This is because
- The disease sits latent for many years and;
- Because females generally live longer than men.
Therefore what is a problem now is likely to increase for the next 20 or so years. As a result the percentage of female victims of mesothelioma will therefore increase rather than decrease.
Making future claims for compensation for female victims will get harder. Old work places will continue to go out of business. Tracing insurance will become less successful. Making claims under asbestos schemes will be harder.
Why do women struggle to get compensation and benefits?
Most people who suffer mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos at work. Most have worked in industries known to involve asbestos exposure. This includes industries such as dockyards, shipbuilding, building and allied trades or chemical works and power stations.
There are many industries listed as known occupations by the DWP when awarding Industrial Injuries Disablement benefit.
There are no precise figures about the number of successful compensation claims per year. Whilst most mesothelioma victims are properly advised and can secure compensation many still fail for a variety of reasons.
What are the issues facing female mesothelioma victims?
Many female asbestos victims struggle to claim both benefits and compensation for asbestos disease.
Many may have been exposed to asbestos from contaminated work clothes. The shaking out of the deadly asbestos dust has caused the deaths of many wives and their children. It is a silent and unknown killer.
Many women affected worked in factories either on the shop floor or in the offices. Others may have worked in supporting industries like catering and were unknowingly exposed to asbestos either in the fabric of buildings or from work done by workman nearby.
Sitting in works canteen areas or shared dining areas close to workers in asbestos laden clothes is a common cause of exposure to asbestos.
There is little provision ore recognition of this lighter exposure still causing asbestos disease.
What is the problem?
Whilst there has been a move in the courts to help male asbestos victims this is not always reflected in how female cases are dealt with. A most noteworthy development was in January 2019 in a successful case in January 2019 of Lydia Carey. She sadly got mesothelioma and died due to washing her husband’s overalls. He worked at the Vauxhall plant in Bedford. The case is a stark reminder of how asbestos mesothelioma can affect female victims.
In that case Lydia’s husband showed the court that there was a foreseeable risk of her developing asbestos disease from the regular washing of her husband’s overalls. These were covered with asbestos from his work.
A copy of the judgment from the case and a commentary from the barrister who won it is here https://asbestoslawblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/carey-v-vauxhall-motors-ltd-first-reported-overalls-case-in-which-the-claimant-has-been-successful/
Asbestos cancer and Women – the norm
Sadly for many other victims of asbestos disease matters are not so straightforward.
Arguments about the foreseeability of danger, whether that company or employer should have been aware of the dangers of taking dirty overalls home or exposing their staff to asbestos at low levels in factories are still argued by insurers and companies.
Our experience is that female asbestos victims do not succeed with claims as much as men.
Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) 2014
For asbestos victims where there is no insurer or employer who can be traced the 2014 DMPS provides a fund of last resort for a person who was exposed to asbestos at work to make a claim.
Since it’s inception in 2014 there have been just over 1000 claims lodged for payment. In the last report (2017/18) some 360 were applications made. Sadly only 60% were successful. Of the applications 90% of them were from men. This suggests women made up only 36 of the submitted claims figure.
Even allowing for massaging of the figures less than 80% of cases lodged will win. That means that many men and women lose out.
The DMPS scheme broadly mirrors the approach in common-law cases. It follows that if a case would fail at common law then the DMPS scheme handlers will turn it down under the scheme.
DMPS is funded by a levy paid for by a levy upon employers liability policies. Annual reports from the scheme show that there has always been money in excess of what is needed to meet expected claims. In the five years since it started there has been a reduction in the levy and no plans to require more money from the insurance industry. This is not likely to change given the low success rates above.
It follows that the low number of female cases and failures reflect the barriers that women come across when making claims.
We suspect that the low number of female applicants to that scheme is because they know they are doomed to fail.
Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB)
Not only do women lose out on any claim for common law compensation but trying to get a claim for benefits is also fraught with problems.
Claims for IIDB are often rejected for women. If the exposure to asbestos occurred outside work then they cannot claim at all for this benefit. If they did work but are not on a list of recognised occupations then the claim is also rejected.
Statistics show that women make up only 6% of claim that are made for IIDB which reflects the difficulties that they face.
Compare and contrast – the unfairness of the system
For women and self employed people there is in place the 2008 Diffuse Mesothelioma Scheme (DMS). This is a Government paying scheme which insurers do not pay into at all.
This this is in place to pay modest lump sums for self employed people or to pay women claims. Sadly the payment tariff for this scheme is much lower. Here is an illustration of the difference.
A 70 year old woman with mesothelioma claiming under the 2008 DMS would get £17,961.
A 70 year old man claiming under the DMPS would get £160,685 less benefits accrued and Solicitors costs of £7000.
Does that seem fair?
So what can be done?
Corries Asbestos Claim Team Director Howard Bonnett has formed a three point plan to make claims fairer for female asbestos victims.
Howard is starting a campaign to encourage the Government to look at this again and to rewrite the regulations in relation to claims for IIDB benefits and for the DMPS so that:-
- First of all the threshold for claims for women under the DMPS be lowered than the common-law claim threshold currently used;
- Alternatively there be a specialist default system which allows women to receive the same payments under the DMPS even if their asbestos exposure is from a domestic exposure or from a workplace and;
- In addition women be allowed to claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit to match their male counterparts even if that exposure to asbestos came from a non workplace source like work clothes.
Asbestos cancer and women -our fight
The fact that our female asbestos cancer victims are failing to get either compensation or benefits is a disgrace. It reflects poorly on us as a society.
Women affected by asbestos disease from work clothes often get no compensation when they have suffered the same condition. They are innocent victims of corporate failure.
Those who have worked and been contaminated with asbestos face uncertainty in the courts and successes are rare.
Add to this women cannot even claim Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit where asbestos exposure has not occurred in a workplace. Even those exposed to asbestos at work making claims for Industrial Injuries benefit face a battle to get what male counterparts get. That cannot be fair.
Asbestos cancer and women – our plan
For these reasons I am writing to local female MP’s to see if they will help support my campaign to get the government to change the laws for the scheme and for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
The effects on the actual running of the scheme and the further monies needed would not be significant compared to the annual sums paid each year.
In respect of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit whilst there would be some increase to the sums paid these would only mirror those paid to workmen who have the same condition.
In my opinion no woman who has been exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma, either from work clothes or in the workplace should be prejudiced compared to their male counterparts.
I am making this campaign and I am looking for support from the legal community, those involved in bringing claims I hope that this will gain support and encourage the government to write this unequal and sexist state of affairs.”
Corries are asbestos claim specialists and we fight hard for all our clients. Have you been diagnosed with asbestos disease in the last three years? Call us now for a FREE no obligation chat n 0800 083 7839.